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Zuni Cafe Cookbook--the BEST, BEST roast chicken and bread salad EVER!! (long)

  • c

My Fellow Hounds,

Something was revealed to me over the weekend that I feel compelled to share w/ you. If I were to take a poll, I'm sure that nearly every one of you who frequents this board has made one to hundreds of roast chickens in your lifetime. In fact, our collective number of roast chickens would be of mind-boggling proportions, I'm sure.

I'm estimating that I have made at least 50 roast chickens in my roughly 10 yrs. of serious cooking. I have tried numerous variations, recipes, side dishes and have come close yet never quite found "the one"...until last weekend. You already know what it is from my title, and by now you may have already salivated over the picture below. If you know me, I rarely use the word "best" to describe anything--it's not in my temperate nature. But BEST, BEST...EVER seems to fit here.

Let me just say that Zuni's chicken and bread salad is the most delicious thing I've eaten in a very, very long time (in my home or elsewhere). Not only is each component wonderful on its own, but when eaten together, they meld into one sublimely cohesive masterpiece. The crispy, salty bite of skin...the moist, tender, flavorful-to-the-core meat...the rustic bread chunks w/ pockets of chew, crunch, and tang from the vinaigrette...the nutty, sweet, savory, and peppery of pine nuts, currants, garlic, scallions, and arugula (I only had parsley though). A truly addictive quality that guarantees no leftovers. For the poster below who wants to woo women, look no further. Men will equally swoon.

The recipe is the epitome of simple home cooking that is brought to magnificent heights by a few simple but critical factors--namely starting out w/ impeccable ingredients, pre-salting the bird, and roasting on high heat. The kind of heat that produces some smoke so that when you open your oven to tend to the bird, the alarm goes off and your SO or roommate has to open all the windows and flap furiously until the sharp ring abates. Yes, this happened, and yes, I'd gladly deal w/ it again (except I will have a standing fan set up next time).

I generally like to include a recipe w/ such a report (otherwise it's a bit of a tease, isn't it?), but have intentionally decided to leave it at that. Paraphrasing this just doesn't seem right. For me, hounds are the type to do whatever it takes to find or create the best chow, so I will leave you to google, your library, bookstore, etc.

I checked the book out from my library and this is the first thing I've made from it. The book seems to be something special from what I have gathered, and I encourage you to get your hands on it through whatever means you can. If you have any feedback or personal experience from making it or eating it at their Cafe, then I'd love to hear your comments.

I have yet to eat at Zuni, but this recipe has single-handedly turned me into a Zuni groupie. Now I must go there myself (luckily, I live w/in driving distance) to taste their wood-fired version for comparison. The one blissful thing that we did at home that we couldn't really do in the restaurant was eat most of it w/ our hands :-)

Image: http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y45/...

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  1. That cookbook is one of the very rare celebrity restaurant cookbooks that should be part of a core cookbook collection. (I am also fond of the cookbook from Chez Piggy in Kingston, Ontario, but it's not as magisterial as the Zuni Cafe opus.)

    Judy Rodgers comes across as worthy of Madeleine Kamman and Marcella Hazan, other living Mistresses of Technique that make you want to Do Right By The Right Stuff.

    17 Replies
    1. re: Karl S.

      I agree with your comment about restaurant cookbooks. I've found only two exceptions:

      1) The Frog Commissary Cookbook. This is now out of print, and the restaurant out of business but you can order used copies at amazon. I recommend this so higly that if anyone gets one they may email me directly and I will give you detailed comments on various recipes that you must try.

      2) The Union Square Cafe cookbook...so user friendly and so many hits.

      1. re: JB

        Wholeheartedly agree with Union Square. I *love* that cookbook!!

        1. re: JB

          Frog Commisary cookbook....I have it, but never tried anything in it. Seems like the Chicken Satay was one I wanted to try. Would like your list of dishes to try.

          Must research Union Square Cafe cookbook.

        2. re: Karl S.

          Thanks for your endorsement of the book, Karl; it means alot. Glad to hear that my instincts were right on about the quality and depth of this book. Judy Rodgers knows her stuff, and even though I'm not crazy about her writing "voice" and think the recipes could be more succinct and clear, there's a lot of good info in there that I haven't come across in other books. I likely will buy the book after I return it to my library.

          Since you have the book, what do you recommend I churn out before my May 6th due date? The ricotta gnocchi look pretty darn good...

          PS. Thanks for the 'hair bag' tip. I will do that but will still need the fan, otherwise the place will still fill up w/ smoke (my stove fan sucks!).

          1. re: Carb Lover

            Well, an immortal recipe in the book is the one for the slow-cooked romano (flat Italian green) beans, which can also work for pole-type green beans. The recipe could hardly be simpler. The major unlisted ingredient is patience, and perhaps a willingness to overcome some preconceptions about what it means to properly cook green beans.

            My experience is that it takes a bit longer than the recipe suggests, but that may be because I really cook at a very low heat. A Le Creuset-type pot helps.

            Another fine springtime recipe is for the roasted boneless leg of lamb. Fortunately, I was able to find a local butcher who knew how to corkscrew (rather than butterfly) a leg of lamb. Recipe was marvelous.

            1. re: Karl S.

              '...and perhaps a willingness to overcome some preconceptions about what it means to properly cook green beans.'

              =======

              Absolutely! I found myself doing that a few times w/ the chicken recipe. I had to resist my natural inclinations and set aside prior beliefs, and my loyalty and trust were rewarded. I'm still glad that I have my prior knowledge to draw from (since I really questioned and thus deviated on a couple of things), but I am humbled and have a lot to learn from Rodgers. I'm also excited about having a female chef as my culinary heroine of the moment. Will def. consider making the lamb and green beans; they sound great.

              1. re: Karl S.

                Mildly OT but I know you are in the Boston area, as am I, and wondered which butcher can do this? (John Dewar comes to mind.)

                1. re: GretchenS

                  Oops, see the reply above yours.

                2. re: Karl S.

                  Well, a nice young fellow at J Pace & Sons in Saugus (west of Route 1, at the junction of Main St and Lynn Fells Pkwy) took care of it for me for Easter last year. He knew what I wanted, and when I got the meat, it was exactly what I thought the recipe called for: the bone had been twisted out of the central part of the cut, rather than have the entire piece slit open end to end. Made a huge difference in being able to tie the leg up into a log; would not be as even if it were butterflied.

                  They have good butchers there. And it's not the freight of Dewar's. A very nice store: good meat (chicken on ice, good beef, great pork), good produce and lots of nice things. Reminds me of the very good larger corner grocers in Italian neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Marianne Esposito of Ciao Italia fame uses JPace for her scenes in American grocers...

                  With a very nice candy store (Russo's) on one side, and a very interesting wine/spirits store on the other.

                  1. re: Karl S.

                    ... plus not too far from Karl's Sausage Kitchen. Sounds like a trip to Saugus is in order. Thanks!

                3. re: Carb Lover

                  Thank you for this wonderful post. I make roast chicken 25-30 times/year (it's a Friday night staple in our housse) and am always searching for "the best."

                  Best wishes on your impending arrival. I had a baby on May 6 and recommend it. :) He will be 8 this year.

                  1. re: doctor_mama

                    Def. try the recipe (only from the book, not a modified version that's floating in cyberspace) and report back. I've also heard the Bouchon one is "the best" so I may have to do a comparison before I declare "the one" for me.

                    Thanks for your wishes, but let me clarify...I'm not pregnant. I was puzzled when you and another poster gave me best wishes for my 'impending arrival', wondering when I might have mentioned that I was pregnant. I now realize that my mention of "due date" was naturally perceived as you did, but what I was referring to was when my book is due back at the library. So my impending arrival will be the cookbook that I order today from Amazon! Thanks for the chuckle...

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      This is how rumors start! I was following up on that other poster, figured it was someone who knew you. Well, enjoy the book until May 6!

                4. re: Karl S.

                  Gosh, my stepsister, who lives in Kingston, gave me and my husband the Chez Piggy cookbook for our wedding back in 1998. We live in LA and have never been to Kingston. I have looked through it on many occasions, but have never cooked from it. What recipes do you like?

                  1. re: Debbie W.

                    I have done less than I ought to have from this remarkably broad-ranging book. The restaurant is worth several visits, btw, since virtually everything is wonderful, as is the Kingston area generally.

                    Some easy things to start: the Stilton pate, the Gambas al Ajillo, the Leek and Stilton soup, the Red Cabbage Salad, the Lemon Anchovy cream sauce for pasta, the 10th Anniversary Chili, the Lemon Pots de Creme (I never made it, but it's good).

                    The Chez Piggy way with duck confits is legendary, btw, served with the white bean and spinach puree.

                    1. re: Karl S.

                      Thanks for the ideas.

                  2. re: Karl S.

                    I'd like to add Suzanne Goin's "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" to the short list of celebrity chef cookbooks that are full of wonderful, exciting delicious recipes that work.

                  3. Consider putting a hair bag around your smoke alarm instead....

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Karl S.
                      c
                      Caitlin McGrath

                      What's a hair bag? A shower cap?

                      1. re: Karl S.

                        ROFL...that is exactly what we call shower caps at our house...Hair Bags...and the only use they get is over the smoke detector when I am roasting meat. Or taking a shower, or have a candle burning, or get overheated during pilates...we have a VERY sensitive detector :-)

                        1. re: Karl S.

                          What a great idea. Much easier than taking out the battery.

                          But remember, everyone--restore the smoke detector to its proper operating condition when you're done cooking!

                        2. f
                          farmersdaughter

                          Beautiful photo, Carb Lover!! Which herb did you use under the chicken skin when roasting?

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: farmersdaughter

                            Thanks, farmersdaughter. I used 4 thyme sprigs under the skin (one on each breast, and one on each leg). The recipe offered several options (rosemary or sage as well) but I like thyme best. The crazy thing is that I've done this before w/ thyme and sometimes butter (this recipe used NO butter), but never achieved such flavorful results. The 1.5 days of it sitting in the fridge really allowed the thyme to penetrate every crevice of meat. Even the drumsticks were infused w/ a delicate herbaciousness!

                            After my bad luck w/ a wet brine this past year for my Thanksgiving turkey, I'm plotting how to translate this recipe (bread salad and all) to next year's turkey. This "dry brine" is the way to go!!

                            1. re: Carb Lover
                              f
                              farmersdaughter

                              There was an article in a recent article of Fine Cooking magazine that also recommended the "dry brine". I'm definitely going to try this one soon!

                          2. I agree-- this book is a must have, and the first cookbook I'd read in a while that got me excited again about ingredients. She has a consistent vision, but she's not preachy like Alice Waters (or at least, that's how AW's tone comes off to me).

                            This pre-salting and pre-seasoning technique is my favorite "discovery" this year, and works so much better for anything that I would otherwise brine. For Christmas, I cooked my crown roast of pork following the bone-in pork roast recipe, with the fennel/coriander/lemon seasoning, and it was incredible. I now routinely season all poultry, pork, and veal this way, and it _never_ goes wrong. I usually pre-season 24 hours in advance. I made a great chicken just this weekend with salt, pepper, oregano, lemon peel, and fennel seed.

                            I tried the ricotta gnocchi recipe, and it was very good, although I don't think I drained the ricotta long enough.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: emdb

                              Thanks for your comments. Glad to hear that the pre-seasoning has generalized to other dishes for you w/ great success. I was so struck by that pre-seasoning passage in her book. Completely astounded that she would pre-salt the meat right when she brings something home from the market, before she may even know when or in what she's going to use it. I'm going to experiment w/ this...

                              It's really amazing what 24+ hrs. of pre-seasoning did for this chicken. I love how it didn't take any extra time but saved me from having to add lots of extras during cooking to pump in the flavor. Really allows you to appreciate one ingredient for what it is and bring out all that it can be.

                            2. Thank you for sharing your detailed feedback on this recipe and providing a wonderful picture. I've heard that is good but have not heard any 'juicy' details. Your description is great. I have a copy of the recipe and have put it my SF Chronicle Cookbook for future use. P.S. congrats on your impending arrival.