Being wrong tastes so right: Zuni Cafe’s roast chicken and bread salad

If you’re friends with any of any of the other Sudekum five, then you know we do roast chicken. We do them on Sundays, and we do them well (really, really well). By “really really well” I mean we could make an excellent bird with our eyes closed and by “we” I mean my parents. I’m not quite sure why, but I never once jumped in there to help with the main event. Sure I’ve mashed potatoes or roasted brussels sprouts, but I steered clear of the chicken. I think it might have something to do with its wholeness. And bonefulness.  Much more intimidating than a measly boneless, skinless breast or two.

No need to cue a drum roll for when I tell you I have shocking news…Yes, I was wrong again, people. Roasting chicken really is a great concept every way you look at it. Good one, Mama and Papa Sudekum! They’re inexpensive, easy, fun to cook and satisfying to belly and soul alike. And really, the very part I found most intimidating about it– the sheer animalness of it all was actually the part I liked the best. It feels very nesty and Little House on the Prairie to have a chicken roasting in the oven on a Sunday afternoon. Sharing the feast and a bottle of Prosecco with a few friends doesn’t hurt the overall enjoyability factor either.

My little house really is on the prairie.

Now onto the awesome recipe that I’m begging you to try. It comes from the Smitten Kitchen Blog by way of Zuni Café in San Francisco. Easy deliciousness, with rustic show stopping power is how I’d describe it if forced at gunpoint. As you’ll see, the chicken is served with this nifty bread salad. Of course you can just make the chicken, but really, not making the salad is just a nasty bad idea.

When making the recipe, please keep the following in mind:

  • The chicken is dry brined overnight, so give yourself some wiggle room and plan ahead
  • For optimal juiciness and flavor factors a small chicken works best
  • A slow brine and a fast roast are the secrets to this recipe, don’t get scared when the chicken starts browning right away

Please give ‘er a whirl and tell me about your results. I’d also love to continue testing roast chicken recipes, so please send me your favorite! Maybe I can even get Papa Sudekum to share his with the world…

Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken

Adapted by Smitten Kitchen and then Me

Serves 3

One small chicken, 2 1/2 to 3 1/2-pounds

4 sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage

2 tablespoons salt, plus extra to taste

1 tablespoon pepper, plus extra to taste

Dry brine the chicken:

Twenty-four hours in advance of eating, clean the chicken and dry as well as possible. Drying is so important because a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming smoking before it begins crisp. Turn the chicken breast side up and slide your finger underneath the skin on one breast creating a little pocket. Carefully slide your fresh herb up into the pocket, underneath the skin. Repeat process on the other breast and thighs. Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Don’t stress about the seasoning the cavity too heavily, a few sprinkles inside is enough. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders so that the bird is as compact as possible. Cover loosely and refrigerate overnight.

Prepare your oven and pan:

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan. Preheat the pan over medium heat on the stove. Wipe the chicken dry again and set it breast side up in the pan. You should hear a sizzle.

Roast the chicken:

Listen and watch for browning and sizzling/yummy cooking noises within 20 minutes. If you’re not getting enough action, raise the temperature progressively until achieving results. The browning happens faster than you’re used to. The skin should blister and bubble, but not burn. If it starts charring, reduce heat 25 or 30 degrees. After about 30 minutes flip the bird. Roast for another 15-20 minutes on the other side, then flip back over to re-crisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.

Rest the chicken: (The most important step in the Sudekum household!)

Remove the chicken and set on a plate. Carefully skim off the clear fat from the roasting pan, and pour the rest of the drippings into a small bowl. Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, and pour the juice into the bowl of drippings. Continue the resting process while you prepare the bread salad. If you’re not making the bread salad (gasp), let the chicken rest for about 15 minutes and then serve.

She’s as tasty as she is pretty.

Zuni Cafe Bread Salad

Adapted by Smitten Kitchen and then Me

Serves 3

1 loaf slightly stale Italian-style bread

6 to 8 tablespoons EVOO

1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon dried currants plumped in1 tablespoon white wine vinegar and 1 tablespoon warm water for ten minutes or so 
(I couldn’t find these here, but I imagine them adding the perfect amount of sweetness)

2 tablespoons roasted pine nuts

2 or 3 garlic cloves, diced

1 fresh onion or 4 green onions, diced

1 bag arugula

Preheat the oven broiler. Cut or tear bread into irregular 2-inch chunks and drop into a large bowl. Toss them with just enough EVOO to lightly coat, about 2 tablespoons. Sprinkle the bread into the roasting pan you used to cook the chicken and broil just until the chunks turn slightly golden on the edges. You’re really just drying them out.

In the large bowl the bread was in, combine about 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Add the bread back into the large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette; the bread will be unevenly dressed.


Heat one tablespoon of EVOO over medium heat in a small pan and add the garlic and onions and stir constantly, just until softened. Add the garlic and onions into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold them in, along with the pine nuts. Next, dribble the chicken drippings over the salad and carefully fold again. Last, while the bread is still hot, add the arugala and taste for salt, pepper and maybe a few extra splashes of vinegar. Pour the salad onto a round or oval serving dish, top with the chicken and serve.



Filed under Recipes

3 responses to “Being wrong tastes so right: Zuni Cafe’s roast chicken and bread salad

  1. Carey

    Lauren’s Cooking School Schedule [to coincide with PB & J bike clinic??]
    1. egg poaching
    2. artichoke cutting
    3. roasting chicken

  2. Betsy

    You inspired me…i’m making this for Sunday dinner!

  3. Megan

    I did not know Zuni’s actually gave out the recipe for their famous chicken! I had it at the restaurant in San Fran. To die for! I think its the combo of the bread salad and the chicken that makes it. In the restaurant they serve the bread salad underneath the chicken, amazing! I am going to have to try this recipe for sure.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s