We are often out and about on the weekends. You know, living our wild and crazy child-less lives (if you click that link, the article is really great. just sayin’). Or maybe just playing board games at someone’s house, if you really want to know. We like to think we’re simple and low-key, but our budget tells us we spend a shit-ton of $$ on food and alcohol. Not that it’s a bad thing. It’s just the fact of the matter at hand. Anybody singing a rap song after reading that sentence? nevermind.
A few months ago, I realized I’d made reservations for us to eat at Zuni Cafe. It’s one of those places that, if you want to eat at a reasonable time on a Saturday night, requires reservations a bit in advance. So I picked a rando Saturday, and before I knew it, it was time to go. If you know anything about popular dining spots in SF, you for sure know that Zuni is an institution, maybe for their Bloody Marys (which I hear are magnificent), but probably for their roasted chicken.
So we went, and Chris was given the freedom to choose appetizers, wine, and dessert for us, but I said we HAD to share the chicken. He happens to like roasted chicken, so I was in luck. In my opinion, the chicken was everything it was cracked up to be – tender, juicy, nestled perfectly in a simply dressed salad, complete with haphazardly-torn croutons that were perfect for dipping in to soak up the chicken juice-laced dressing. J’adore.
Coincidentally enough, Food & Wine had recently published a version of said chicken in a roasted chicken feature they did recently and I just never got it together to start the recipe the night before, and I didn’t dare skip that part. So finally, a few weekends ago, I picked up a chicken on way home on Friday. On Saturday, after a good 20 minutes of dealing with a crazy city smoke detector (I hate them), we were well on our way to a magical dinner.
We were not disappointed. As if I needed further confirmation of this chicken being amazing, I kept saying, amidst a mouth-full of crusty bread and chicken, arugula lodging itself in my teeth, “damn, this is good. isn’t it? isn’t it?”. Fortunately, Chris talks with his mouth full too, and he agreed until I finally shut up.
And then we did it all over again the next day, as a roasted chicken salad also makes a great picnic lunch. Just so you know.
Zuni Cafe’s ‘Roasted Chicken with Warm Bread Salad’
adapted from Food & Wine, March 2013; serves 4
time commitment: 1 hour, 30 minutes (+24 hours seasoning for chicken)
One free-range, organic chicken
4 thyme sprigs
4 small garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
2 t fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1 T dried currants
1 T warm water
1 t red wine vinegar
2 T white wine vinegar
1/2 c plus 2 1/2 T extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound stale Italian-style bread, cut into large chunks
1 T pine nuts
4 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 celery ribs, diced
4 c lightly packed small arugula leaves, or other greens (I used arugula, but when I had the chicken at Zuni they used a mix. i like it either way)
Using your fingers, gently loosen the skin from the chicken breasts and thighs. Stuff the thyme and garlic under the skin and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle the salt all over the chicken and season with pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 500 (and hope your smoke detector doesn’t go nuts like mine…). Preheat a large cast-iron skillet in the oven for 5 minutes. Put the chicken in the skillet, breast side up, and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken breast side down and roast for about 15 minutes longer, or until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced. Transfer the chicken to a board and let rest for 10 minutes; carve and hang on to those chicken juices! (You can also use another oven-safe container, but you might have to turn the heat down and roast longer.)
Meanwhile, prepare the bread salad ingredients.
In a small-ish bowl, soak the currants in the water and red wine vinegar until plumped, 10 minutes. Drain and put into a large bowl for mixing the salad.
While currants are plumping up, on a rimmed baking sheet, toss the bread with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Bake for about 5 minutes, until lightly toasted. Let cool, then tear the bread into bite-size pieces and add to the large bowl.
In the now-empty small bowl, combine the white white vinegar with the 1/2 cup of olive oil and season the dressing with salt and pepper. Add three-quarters of the dressing to the cooled bread and currants and let stand for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, slightly toast the pine nuts in a skillet for about 2 minutes. Add to large bowl.
In a skillet, heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Add the scallions and garlic and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 2 minutes; transfer to a large bowl. Add the currants, bread, pine nuts and the remaining vinaigrette and toss.
Spoon the bread salad into a shallow 1-quart baking dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake for about 15 minutes, until heated through. Uncover and bake for a few minutes longer to dry out the top and brown the bottom. Transfer the bread salad to a platter and toss with arugula.
Skim the fat from the juices in the skillet. Place chicken pieces atop bread salad and drizzle any juices atop. EN-JOY!