It emerges blistered and tender from their glowing hearth and then placed atop a tangle of scrappy bread salad that soaks up the dripping juices as it makes its way to your table. I have never attempted to make it at home even though I have had the cookbook for years; but frustrated at my frequent failed attempts to make a decent roast chicken with the free range Hutterite birds I’ve been buying, I decided to give it a try. It did lack that distinctive smokey flavor but it was still delicious and I think will be my go to method for roasting smaller birds from now on.
The recipe doesn’t call for any extra fat, you don’t rub the chicken with oil or butter before roasting which I found dubious but turns out the chicken’s own fat is more than sufficient. Also you roast the chicken at super high heat—the entire time. Although Chef Judy Rodgers says you must use a small (2 3/4- 3 1/2 pound) bird to successfully roast a chicken this way, mine was more like 4 1/4 pounds and worked great. She claims bigger birds don’t have enough skin (or fat) for the amount of meat and will be too dry to be cooked at such a high heat, so I would just say try to find the smallest one you can.
The absolute best thing about this method is you do the entire thing in an oven-safe frying pan. This is genius on many levels. It is way easier to clean up than a bulky roasting pan, and lighter and less cumbersome to move around the kitchen with a chicken in it. But mainly you can make a fantastic pan sauce in a pan that actually fits on a burner and doesn’t have awkward corners to stir around.
Now I will get to the instructions I didn’t follow. Rodgers says it is essential to salt your chicken at least 24 hours before you cook it. Well, I read that instruction 3 hours before I planned on eating so mine got a 3 hour dry brine (and it was still really good). She also has you place herbs underneath the skin, which I was too lazy to do so I just stuffed some carrot, leek, and herbs in the cavity (and it was still really good). She also has you preheat your pan on the stove top. I decided to put my pan in the oven while it was heating, just to make sure it was really blazing hot and boy that worked. If enthusiastic popping and sizzling frightens you, just go ahead and heat your pan over medium heat on the stove. But don’t be too wimpy, the pan needs to be pretty hot so the chicken doesn’t stick.
Zuni Roast Chicken Recipe
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
- 1 (3-5 pound) whole fryer chicken
- coarse salt
- ground black pepper
- carrot, onion, herbs for stuffing if desired
- Rinse chicken inside and out and pat dry with paper towels. Season generously with salt and pepper on all sides and a generous pinch on the inside too. Stuff cavity with vegetables if desired. Transfer to a large plate, wrap loosely, and place in the refrigerator at least 3 hours before cooking or ideally up to 24 hours before.
- Heat oven to 475°F and arrange rack in middle. Place an oven-safe, large (at least 12-inch) frying pan in the oven as it heats up. Remove chicken from refrigerator and pat dry. Let sit at room temperature while oven and pan are heating.
- Carefully remove pan from oven and place chicken, breast-side up, in pan. Chicken will loudly sizzle and pop, this is what you want. Return to oven and roast for 30 minutes. If the chicken isn't browning and sizzling within 20 minutes, raise your oven temperature to 500°F. If the chicken starts to char or the fat starts to smoke, lower the temperature by 25 degrees.
- Remove from oven and turn chicken over so it is breast-side down. The hot pan should prevent the chicken from sticking. Return to oven for 20-30 minutes more. Remove from oven and turn back over. Roast 5-15 minutes more depending on the size of the bird. This last bit in the oven is to crisp the breast skin and finish cooking. You want the juices to run clear and a thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh to read 165°F.
- Remove chicken from the oven, lift from the pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it. Slash the stretched skin from between the thighs and the breasts of the chicken and let those juices drip back into the pan and any juices that have collected under the chicken. Place over medium-low heat and stir and scrape up any browned bits stuck to the bottom. Cut chicken into pieces and serve with the pan sauce on the side.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 78Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 20mgSodium: 203mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 6g
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