I’ve always been kind of ashamed to admit that I’ve never roasted a whole chicken! I feel like it’s something every home cook should master – it’s basic, homey and comforting, but I’ve always been intimidated by the task for some reason. So last Friday (it’s Sunday today) I decided to prepare a roast chicken for Sunday lunch. I decided to go with Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken since it seems to have so many rave reviews even if the preparation is a little (okay, a lot) longer than I’m used to. It’s worth it though! Here’s how I prepared it:
Friday – Day 1, 6 pm
I started out with a 1.2 kg Bounty Fresh chicken from S&R (don’t use a chicken that is too big since we’re going to be roasting at high heat). First, remove the lump of fat and any innards left inside the chicken, rinse it thoroughly and pat it dry. All instructions said to be thorough here since a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown. And in our house, we’re all about the crispy, golden skin!
From the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig (whatever you like, I used tarragon) into each of the 4 pockets.
Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. This is what it looked like before I put it in a bowl and covered it with cling wrap. Then it went into the refrigerator and I forgot about it until this morning (2 days later).
Sunday, Day 3
Preheat your oven to 475 degrees. To roast, use a shallow roasting pan or dish not much bigger than your chicken or a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle. I used my trusty 10-inch cast iron skillet, and preheated the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It will sizzle!
Put your chicken in the center of the oven, it should start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over. My chicken looked like this before I turned it over, it smelled wonderful already.
If you dried the chicken and preheated the pan, don’t worry about the skin sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes (I only roasted for 10 minutes since I used a smaller chicken), depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes (5 minutes for me). Total oven time will be 45 minutes to an hour.
Let the chicken rest for around 10-15 minutes (do not skip this step!) to ensure that the chicken is tender and uniformly succulent. I served this on a bread salad that I loosely adapted from Zuni’s recipe based on what I had on hand. We thought we would have enough leftover chicken for sandwiches or soup but happily everything disappeared pretty quickly. It was tender, moist and flavorful and was terrific with the bread salad. This will definitely be a repeat dish in our house!