I’ve tried roasting chicken Zuni-café style before and the results were spectacular. The steps are fussy and you need to start preparing at least one to two days in advance. But none of it is difficult. I had no problems at all even on the first attempt.
But my brother and sister, younger sibs both, were off studying in Columbus at OSU when I made Zuni chicken the first time. I wanted to share it with them. That’s what my family does, you see – share good food.
You will need one or two chickens, depending on how many people you’re feeding. One chicken ought to feed three or four people. Each chicken should be 2.75 to 3.5lbs, but any chicken under four pounds will work just fine. It’s very important that these chickens be small – the high roasting temperature will not work on a larger chicken, and it’s this high temp roasting that will crisp the skin while keeping the meat inside tender and juicy. I tend to use fryer chickens – as they tend fall into our ideal weight range.
You’ll need the advance time for what’s called dry-brining. You rub seasoned salt into the skin and inside ahead of time, so that the moisture gets sucked out of the skin, resulting in flavorful, crispy skin.
Seasoning the chicken:
- Remove the chicken from its packaging. Take out any giblets – either discard or use for your own purposes if you want. Then cut the tail and any leftover neck bone and discard. Rinse and pat dry – keep it as dry as possible – a wet chicken will stick to the pan and steam instead of roasting.
- Prepare your herb springs. I use sage leaves, rosemary, and thyme. I made six bundles for each chicken – two on both thighs, two for each side of the breast, and two on the back. I use a one to two inch spring of rosemary, fold up a few sprigs of thyme, and wrap it all up with a sage leaf.
- Approaching from the cavity, use your finger to gently loosen the skin and make two pockets on either side of the breast, and then a pocket on each thigh. Then, approaching from the much smaller neck cavity, loosen two pocket on either side of the back.
- Insert each bundle rosemary stem first.
Season the chicken with about one teaspoon of salt per pound of chicken.
You’ll want a ratio of two parts salt to one part pepper. The original recipe calls for cracked black pepper, but I like to use equal amounts of black and white pepper. I also add some garlic powder, since we like that stuff in our family, and garlic just seems to go hand in hand with chicken.
So for each pound of chicken, I use:
1 teaspoon coarse salt or sea salt.
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon white pepper
(And about 1/8 teaspoon for the entire chicken, so don’t multiply this for the entire chicken or you’ll overwhelm the other seasonings!)
- Mix the salt and spices together in a separate bowl, then pat the chicken dry again. I use one bowl of seasoning for each chicken – it makes measuring it all out much easier – this is already a fussy process, no need to make it harder for yourself!
- Season each chicken liberally, rubbing the stuff in wherever you sprinkle it. Pay particular attention to the thicker parts like the breasts, back, and thighs. Rub some into the cavity, and take care with the wings – when you serve them they can be eaten like sauced up wings.
- Twist and tuck the wing-tips behind the shoulders.
- Once you’ve seasoned the chicken/s, place them on a baking sheet lined thoroughly with paper towels. Drape a cloth towel over your chickens, and place in the fridge to sit overnight for one to two days. You’ll need to pat the chicken dry at least twice a day, as the salt will naturally draw out the moisture in the skin.
- Congratulate yourself – the hard part is now over.
- Be sure to wash your hands and disinfect your counter tops when you’re done!
One to two days later, time to roast!
- Get out a deep, flameproof roasting pan. The other recipes call for a shallow pan, but I find a deeper one will catch more of the hot fat spatters. We could all use less spatter burns on our arms, yes?
- Pop the pan into the oven and preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit. The original recipe calls for heating the pan on the stove, but why do that when the oven can do the work for you?
- When your pan and the oven are both hot, take the pan out, and with your prepped, re-patted dry chicken, and set it onto the pan breast-side up. It should sizzle.
- Put the pan into the oven.
- After twenty minutes, the skin should have started browning and blistering. If it hasn’t turn the temperature up until it does. If the chicken begins to smoke or blacken, reduce the oven temperature by 25 degrees.
- Continue to roast breast-side up for another thirty minutes.
- Remove from oven and turn over, breast-side down. Properly drying ahead of time should keep the skin from sticking to the pan. Roast in the oven for ten to twenty minutes more. You’ll know to turn it over when a meat thermometer stuck in the thigh reads 180 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Now turn over, breast-side up for five to ten minutes to recrisp the skin on this side.
- Once you’ve done that, remove from oven, place chickens on a cutting board to rest for no more than thirty minutes. Do NOT slash the skin – keep the lovely juices inside the skin to absorb into the meat!
Here is a quick cheat sheet for when your chicken is in the oven, so you don’t need to scour the recipe while you’re working:
Breast side UP = 20 min
Breast-side UP, starting to brown and blister = 30 minutes more.
Breast-side DOWN = 10 to 20 minutes. Check thigh with meat thermometer = 180 degrees F.
Breast-side UP = 5 to 10 minutes to recrisp the skin on this side.
Remove from oven, let rest up to 30 minutes. Do not slash skin.
- While the chicken is resting, deglaze the pan to use all those fantastic crunchy brown bits left over.
- While the pan is still hot, pour in one 187ml bottle of white wine. Wait for the spatters to die down, then scrape the bottom of the pan with a stiff heat-proof spatula, swirling as you scrape. The brown bits and grease should dissolve into the wine. Pour the deglazed wine into a saucepan.
- Deglaze again with a similar amount of chicken stock, and once more pour into the saucepan.
- Add more stock to the saucepan, and start to reduce. There is no need to add any seasonings – the dry-brine from the chicken skin will add all the flavor you need!
- Slowly add lemon juice, to cut the richness of the sauce with a little acidic brightness. It’s really up to you how much lemon juice you want to add, so start with a little at first to be conservative, and add more to your liking.
- Reduce the sauce by half.
- Thicken with flour slurry style – take a tablespoon of flour, whisk in a little hot stock from the saucepan until smooth, and then pour into saucepan. If it’s still not thick enough for you, add more slurry. Cook until it has reached the desired consistency. The slurry adds a shiny glossiness to the sauce that making a roux will not.
Serve with the chicken!
Once you’ve eaten all the roast chicken, save the bones, gristle, and any skin left over (unlikely, since it’s so flavorful and crispy!). Add carrots, onions, celery, and water – boil until you’re happy with it. Again, no need to season!
If you don’t need to use your stock right away, I like to reduce the stock to a sixth of its former volume.
I then pour it into ice cube trays or mini muffin trays, and refrigerate until its jellified.
I wrap each cube in saran wrap, pack up in a big Ziploc bag, and freeze.
When you need an infusion of flavor, just whip one of these out for rice, stir fry, soups, anything!