Here's a recipe I'm quite proud of: Roasted Chicken + Autumn Bread Salad. A quickly-roasted chicken delivers its juices to butternut squash, whole sweet shallots, and tart apples roasting beside it on a sheet pan. Peppery arugula in a light dressing mix with vinegar-soaked golden raisins and crispy-chewy toasted bread chunks make a lovely autumn panzanella-style salad that make a bed for the chicken and deeply flavored vegetables. It's all you need on one platter. I can't think of a better Saturday night or Sunday afternoon cool-weather dinner.
This roasted chicken and autumn bread salad borrows inspiration from the late Judy Rodgers, generous traditionalist and exemplary restaurateur. And golly, is it good.
First let me tell you about the chicken Ms. Rodgers made famous at the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. At Zuni, whole, small chickens are roasted in a wood-fired brick oven. The juicy, crackly-skinned chicken is served with a warm bread salad. At Zuni, chunks of hand-torn toasted bread, scallions, garlic, bitter greens, dried currants, and pine nuts are tossed in a light vinaigrette. When you experience this dish, it becomes the gold standard for all roasted chicken. And the craveable bread salad is just as good.
Until now, my go-to method of roasting chicken has been the Zuni Cafe way. Ms. Rodger's way. I pat the chicken dry and give it a dry rub of salt and pepper. Then, I loosely wrap it and put in the fridge for two days before roasting. The chicken skin dries in the refrigerated air, setting it up for crispness. Then on roasting day I set into a hot skillet and rush into a very hot oven. A series of flips mid-roast, and viola! The most crispy-skinned and juicy chicken ever. Put this roasted chicken together with a seasonal bread salad-- oh my!
Sometimes I haven't planned this out well, or don't have the time or energy for these steps but still would love a roasted chicken. Hmmm. What could I do about that?
Ditching the two-day dry brine period and shortening the overall cooking time with our unique preparation method is a great advantage for the home cook. And it still turns out a chicken that is almost as wonderful as the Zuni style.
It's easy to end up with dry white meat when roasting a chicken, and yet so easy to prevent it! By separating the breast and wing section from the leg and thigh section, we give the legs and thighs a 15-minute head start in the oven, sparing the white meat from overcooking. I call this a major kitchen coup!
The best tool for working with a whole chicken is kitchen shears. Get yourself a good pair. Poor quality shears need to be replaced frequently, so make this investment up front when you can. This is the pair I recommend for its value. You can spend more, but these are very good and will last.
With this method we use our kitchen shears to easily separate the breast and wing section from the rest of the bird. We start by separating the breast from the legs in two quick "vee" cuts. Then we flip the breast section upwards like a page in a legal pad. From there, it's very simple to separate the front from the back of the bird at the shoulders.
Roasted winter squash, celery, apple, golden raisins, tons of shallot, and arugula make this a fall-into-winter salad. In the spring and summer, swap those things out for fresh peas or sauteed zucchini, blistered cherry tomatoes, lots of fresh herbs, scallions, and torn mustard greens for a lighter taste. Use what is in season, and the rest remains the same. No matter what time of year, be sure to use garlic confit if you can. It's is always in season!
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