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Dining Tip: Whole Roast Chicken, Signature Dish of Judy Rodgers at Zuni Café

A salad of arugula, toasted bread, pine nuts and currants ties together the flavors

Posted: January 13, 2014

Note: This recipe, from Chef Judy Rodgers, Zuni Café, San Francisco, originally appeared in the Sept. 30, 2010 issue of Wine Spectator.

For the chicken:

• 1 chicken, about 3 pounds
• 4 sprigs fresh thyme or sage
• Kosher or sea salt
• Freshly cracked black pepper

For the salad:

• About 3/4 pound slightly stale, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
• 6 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
• 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
• 2 to 4 scallions, trimmed, with some green remaining
• 2 to 3 garlic cloves, cut into slivers
• 1 tablespoon dried currants, soaked in 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon warm water for 30 minutes and drained
• 2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted
• 2 to 3 cups arugula, frisée or red mustard greens, washed and dried

1. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. (Too much moisture prevents it from crisping properly.) Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Facing the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each breast, separating skin from meat. Do the same for the thickest part of each thigh. Insert a sprig of either thyme or sage between the skin and meat of each breast half and each thigh.

2. Mix 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Using your fingers, season the chicken inside the cavity, on and under the skin, adding a little more on the thicker sections than on the bony parts like wings. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours.

3. Preheat the broiler. Slice off the bottom crust of the bread and most of the top and side crusts. Cut the bread into 4 large, uneven chunks. Brush all over with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Put the bread on a broiler pan about 6 inches from the heat source. Broil, turning once or twice, to briefly crisp and lightly color the surface. Don't worry about even coloring, though trim off any badly charred tips.

4. Tear the chunks into irregular pieces, no more than 2 inches long, which should yield about 4 cups. (This can be done up to several hours in advance.)

5. Combine 3 tablespoons olive oil with the vinegar, then salt and pepper to taste. The mixture should be somewhat tart. Toss a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more-saturated bread pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again. Set aside.

6. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator. Put a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or similar-size roasting pan in the oven and turn the heat to 475° F. (The pan should be just big enough for the chicken to fit, not too snug or with too much room left. The sides should not be too high or the chicken will not brown properly.)

7. When the oven temperature reaches 475° F, remove the skillet and place the chicken in it, breast side up.

8. Put the skillet in the center of the oven. If the chicken doesn't start to brown within 20 minutes, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister. If the chicken begins to char or the fat smokes, reduce the temperature by 25 degrees. (Carefully pouring off accumulated fat also reduces smoking and splattering.) Continue roasting until juices in the thigh run clear, or an instant-read thermometer in the thigh reads 160° F. Total oven time will be about 35 to 40 minutes.

9. While the chicken is roasting, halve the scallions crosswise, then halve lengthwise. Cut the pieces lengthwise into slivers, enough for about 1/4 cup.

10. Put 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and scallions and cook, stirring constantly, until softened but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add to the bread, along with the currants and pine nuts, and mix well.

11. Remove the cooked chicken to a plate and tent with foil for about 10 minutes. Carefully skim off the clear fat from the roasting pan. Add a few tablespoons of water to the hot pan, scraping up any accumulated bits with a wooden spoon.

12. Drizzle a few tablespoons of drippings onto the bread salad and toss. Taste and adjust for salt, pepper and vinaigrette. (The bread salad is intended to be uneven in almost every respect, to provide different taste sensations with each bite.)

13. Put the bread salad in a 1-quart baking dish and tent with foil. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat. Set a serving platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two.

14. After the chicken has rested, drain any accumulated juices into the roasting pan. Place over medium-low heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to mix well. Taste and salt if necessary.

15. Put the bread salad in a salad bowl, then drizzle and toss with a spoonful of pan juices. Add the greens and a drizzle of vinaigrette, and mix. Taste and salt if necessary.

16. Cut the chicken into serving pieces, spread the bread salad on the warm platter and nestle the chicken in the salad. Spoon any additional pan juices over the chicken. Serves 2 to 4.

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