This roast chicken may just be the best roast chicken you’ll ever have…and it may be one of the quickest too! It’s that perfect combination of tender and juicy meat with shatteringly-crisp, golden-brown skin and well-seasoned all the way through. With just enough forethought to remember to season your meat 24 hours in advance, the actual meal comes together in less than an hour.
This is a Cook’s Illustrated riff on the classic and legendary Zuni Café roast chicken recipe, which is 3 looong pages IN SMALL FONT. Some day I will make that recipe, but today is not that day.
The gist of the recipe is to buy a small bird, butterfly it, season generously 24 hours in advance and allow it to dry-brine, uncovered, in the refrigerator so the skin dries out and the salt penetrates throughout. Lay bread cubes under the chicken and take it for a quick roast in a high-heat oven. The bread cubes will be a delicious combination of toasted, crispy, almost-burnt and soft and chewy, flavored with the chicken juices from cooking. Allow the chicken rest while you throw together a salad with the bread cubes, arugula and a flavorful vinaigrette made with Champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard and the chicken drippings. Carve the chicken and dig in. Oh, but how about some mashed potatoes to go with it?!
I had the pleasure of eating at Zuni Café when visiting a friend in San Francisco and I’ve never forgotten that roast chicken. It’s the chicken that made me leave behind my white-meat-only days (I’m sorry…it’s how I grew up!) and dive into the dark side. How many restaurants even serve a whole roasted chicken?! Not many, but they have it down to a science.
There is something so comforting and homey about a good roasted chicken. It’s like an automatic hug for anyone who eats it.
This roast chicken has it all: the perfect combination of tender, juicy meat with crisp, golden-brown skin and well-seasoned all the way through. Served with a bread-and-greens salad tossed with a flavorful vinaigrette of Champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard and chicken drippings.
FOR THE CHICKEN AND CROUTONS:
- One 3-1/2 to 4-pound chicken, giblets discarded
- Four 1-inch-thick slices rustic country-style bread (about 8 ounces), cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- Olive oil, as needed
FOR THE SALAD:
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- 4 ounces baby arugula
- 1/2 head of frisée, cored and coarsely chopped
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons
- To butterfly the chicken: place the chicken, breast side down to access the backbone, on a large cutting board. Cut through the bones on either side of the backbone using kitchen shears; remove the backbone and reserve and freeze for homemade stock (or discard). Flip the chicken over and press down on the breastbone to flatten the chicken.
- Gently loosen the skin over the breasts and legs with your fingers; try not to tear the skin! Rub 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt under the skin of each breast and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt under the skin of each leg and 1 teaspoon inside the open cavity (where you removed the backbone and butterflied). Tuck the wings behind the back and turn the legs so the drumsticks face inward towards breasts. Place a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and place the chicken on the rack. Refrigerate, uncovered, for 24 hours.
- Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 475°. Lightly coat a with olive oil. In a large mixing bowl, toss the bread cubes with the chicken broth and 2 tablespoons olive oil; make sure each cube is moistened. Arrange the bread cubes in the skillet in a single layer; try to get the pieces with crust near the center with the crust facing up (to absorb moisture from the chicken) and the crustless pieces around the outside.
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and place in the skillet on top of the bread, skin side up. Brush a little olive oil all over the chicken skin and sprinkle with another 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Transfer to the oven and roast until the skin is a deep golden-brown color and the breast registers 160°and thighs registers 170°, about 45 to 50 minutes. Rotate the skillet halfway through roasting. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cutting board; let rest, uncovered, for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, prepare the dressing: whisk the champagne vinegar, mustard and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil into the mixture. Place the arugula and frisée in a large mixing bowl.
- When the chicken has rested, carve breasts, legs and thighs and whisk any accumulated chicken juices into the vinaigrette. Add the bread cubes, green onions and currants to the bowl with the arugula and drizzle the vinaigrette over top. Toss to evenly coat everything. Pour onto a large serving platter and arrange the carved chicken on top.
Inspiration: on cooksillustrated.com