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Giving the Zuni chicken a try tonight...question on pans

  • c

Has anyone tried roasting the chicken in a non-stick skillet? Using a skillet is one of the options suggested for a roasting vessel, but no mention is made re: standard vs. non-stick.

Obviously, the benefit is that sticking wouldn't be an issue, but I wonder if it will affect the way the meat browns.



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  1. Not being familiar with your recipe, I don't know what kind of temperature you're going to use. Most non-stick skillets of my experience aren't recommended for oven use over 350ยบ or so, which is as low as you should go for real roasting. I would imagine that the skillet suggested as an option would be an iron one, which I very often use for roasting birds. Non-stick pans are also fairly useless for collecting properly browned drippings, if that's an issue - which is why I usually line my non-stick roasting pan with heavy foil if I'm shooting for decent gravy.

    1. Every time I've done it, I've done it in a non-stick skillet and it's worked beautifully (issues of Teflon breakdown at high temperatures aside). The skin has turned out and crispy and browned every time. I've never used the drippings for anything, including the bread salad, but there are always plenty in the pan and they appear brown enough. Hope this helps!

      1 Reply
      1. re: MB

        Never used your drippings? Oh my! Save them for me next time! If I'm not using them right away, I freeze them and save them for the next time I make biscuits and gravy.

      2. Here's a good trick that I always use: Get a cheap, small roasting rack (grocery stores have them) and put it over your skillet. Voila... you have a roasting pan for chickens now.

        1. If all you are worried about is the browning process, then I think you are ok with non-stick. But I would discourage it for a few reasons.

          First, as I recall, Judy Rodgers's recipe is for a small bird. Therefore, you will need to roast at a high temp ... something around 500 degrees. I don't know of any non-stick pans that can tolerage that kind of heat, at least over time. I have a few Scan Pans that supposedly go up to 450, but I generally don't use them for temps over 400.

          Second, I'm pretty sure that the pan drippings are one of the keys to the bread salad. There won't be much to deglaze if you use a non-stick pan ... you WANT the chicken juices to crystallize on the bottom of the pan during roasting. That way, when you remove the bird you can pour off the liquified fat and leave the crystallized juices behind to be deglazed and flavor the salad.

          So, I'd opt for anything that (1) is heavy duty (so that juices won't burn), (2) is not too much bigger than the item you are roasting (again, don't want to burn the drippings), (3) is not non-stick, and (4) does not have excessively high sides (because you want to get even exposure/heating. If you only have high-sided pans available, then you can resort to using a metal rack or prop the bird up with a few carrots/celery/slices of onion, etc.

          Those are some of the "rules" of roasting in general. That said, I'm sure the bird will still taste great if all you have available is non-stick. But if clean-up is the only issue, go with the "rules." If you deglaze, there's not much clean up in any event.

          Let us know how it goes!

          1. I wouldn't try it. I don't have the Zuni Cookbook, but she allowed Paula Wolfert to put it in her Mediterranean Greens and Grains Cookbook and I've made it a bunch of times.

            The oven temp is really high - 500 degrees? I think.
            You roast it for 20 minutes or so on one side and then turn it and roast for another 20 (this is NOT exact, but just to give you an idea of the temp and time).

            I use a bit more vinegar than the recipe calls for. It's cooked for a short time and loses some acidity.

            Otherwise, it's a great recipe and not so complex you'll make it once and never again go to the trouble.

            1. When I've made Zuni chicken, I've lined the pan with aluminum foil. Harder to deglaze but easier to clean.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Ilaine

                I just tried a few days ago with my sturdy cast iron skillet. It browned perfectly, and there wasn't much stuck to the pan. The juices were dark brown, but the skin did not stick. I think the trick is, as the book says, to get the pan really hot and the chicken really dry.

                I was also worried that the skin would burn at such a high temperature for 30 minutes per side, but it really didn't. The recipe is just that easy.

                1. re: Ilaine

                  I did it once with an aluminum foil lined pan, and ended up peeling foil from the bottom of the chicken.

                2. c
                  ChowFun (derek)

                  According to the testers at Cooks Illustrated, non-stick coatings begin to degrade at 500 degrees...also the drippings (fond) won't carmelize as well which would add depth and flavor to any gravy.

                  1. Looks like my response may be coming in after your attempt. What pan did you end up using and how did it go?

                    Pictured below was my 3rd attempt at the Zuni chicken last week. It was fantastic this time around! Very crispy and greaseless skin w/ intensely flavorful meat. While it roasted, I was struck at how wonderful it smelled. The high heat creates a toasty aroma that reminds me of caramel and nuts, which I think adds to the addictive nature of this bird. Everytime I eat this, I think this is the crack (as in drug) of poultry. My guests' finger-licking reactions only confirm this.

                    About the pan, I actually use a hard-anodized non-stick skillet from Calphalon. I like it b/c it's large and has a flared rim as opposed to a straight-sided one like my All-Clad saute pan. I've used it 3 times already in the 475F oven and haven't noticed any degradation. One tip: I wrap the handle in foil to remind myself it's been in the oven (so that I don't accidently grab it later) and to keep the handle cooler.

                    I'm actually going to roast two 3-lb. birds tonight at the same time to see how that works. I may use two pans (one non-stick, one cast iron) if they will fit and see if there's any difference. Gotta prep my ventilation system :-)

                    Some updates that I've discovered along the way:
                    1. A 4 lb. bird that has a decent amount of fat works fine. I wouldn't exceed this size though.
                    2. I like half bread and half greens for the bread salad. Prefer a salad mix w/ baby greens and radicchio.

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

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      As I said in my previous post, I've used a hard-anodized non-stick skillet everytime I've made the Zuni chicken in the past. Always created a nice bronzed crust on the bird w/ good bits of "fond" in the pan. Absolutely no sticking.

                      Well, I roasted two chickens in two separate pans on Fri. night for a potluck lunch today. For the fun of it (this is how I get my kicks on a Fri. night), I roasted one in my All-Clad stainless steel saute pan and the other in my cast iron skillet. Had them oriented in a diagonal fashion in my oven and then switched places halfway through. I won't get into the increased smoke this created and how my smoke alarm went off at 11:30pm...

                      Anyway, in short, the All-Clad pan sucked. After preheating on the stovetop, I put the bird in and was startled by a loud squeeking noise when the dry bird hit the dry pan. Like nails on a chalkboard. Never happened w/ the non-stick or cast iron which produced a humming sizzle instead. Even though the All-Clad bird didn't stick when I flipped during cooking, it stuck when I moved it to rest, which caused the skin to tear. Annoying. Won't use again, but benefits were that the straight sides contained sputtering oil better and the handle on both sides makes getting it out of oven easier.

                      Cast iron pan worked well and browned the skin better than the All-Clad, but almost seemed TOO hot since I'm sure it retains and conducts heat well. The chicken rose to a higher temp. when I removed it from the oven than it did w/ the non-stick skillet. I had more difficulty regulating the oven temp. w/ two birds and it didn't cook as evenly as if there were one bird in the middle. Have decided that I can only roast one bird at a time and will go back to my hard-anodized non-stick. I wouldn't use teflon-coated though.

                      1. re: Carb Lover

                        I tried it once in a cast iron- cooked well, but made me nervous, as the skillet was really too small for the bird.
                        What about a 2.75 qt. Le Creuset soup pot? Are the sides too high?

                        1. re: Sarah

                          I've never tried roasting chicken in a soup pot, but my gut says it wouldn't brown as evenly as a more shallow pan. I think you should use a slightly larger pan that you already own or buy an inexpensive one. Cast iron skillets at garage sales or thrift stores are quite cheap. Or try to find a bird on the small side, around 2.5 lbs.

                      2. re: Carb Lover

                        hi carblover,

                        thanks for all of the detailed descriptions!

                        one question about your pan...most of the calphalon nonstick pans that i have seen/owned are oven-safe up to 450 degrees....is yours rated higher than that? and if so, where did you get it?


                        1. re: rachel

                          Sounds like you've done your pan research better than me. I honestly have no idea what the max heat for mine is. I tend to be a bit free-wheeling in the kitchen and have no problem bending certain rules. Given that the Zuni chicken roasts at 475F and sometimes the oven dips down to 450F, I'm inclined to believe that it's fine. FWIW, I bought my skillet from Bed, Bath, & Beyond. It was just around $20 or so and was part of their "anniversary edition" special. Probably not as good quality as other, more expensive pans in their line, but has performed quite well for me.

                      3. Is there any downside in using my oven in the convection mode? I've found that I can lower the temp to 440F and keep the same cook time that I use for the 475-500F conventional mode with hardly any smoke. Any thoughts?

                        1. Even with all the info that was provided, I still struggled with my choice. The non-stick pan had the best size and shape, but I worried about the teflon breaking down. I literally put one pan on the burner, started to heat it, reconsidered and put the other pan on (I did this three times...no joke).

                          I eventually went with the bottom half of a stainless steel, All-Clad braiser. The size was about right and the sides were higher than my skillet, but not too bad. I put the tiniest bit of oil in the bottom and rubbed it around with a paper towel. I did get the squeak that Carb Lover mentioned, but it seemed to work just fine. The chicken stuck just a little when I went to flip it, but we coaxed it off the bottom with a couple gentle nudges from a spatula.

                          The chicken itself was incredibly flavorful, even though I overcooked it a bit. I used the convection setting at 475 and didn't cut the cooking time short as recommended (I'll fix that next time).

                          Overall, a good experience and one I will definitely be doing again.

                          Thanks for all the feedback!!

                          1. c
                            Caitlin Wheeler

                            I always make Zuni chicken in my well seasoned cast iron skillet. Easy to clean, browns beautifully, the perfect size. Once I was doing two at once and used a small roasting pan, and it didn't work nearly as well.

                            1. How big are all your pans? I did my chicken on my newish Le Creuset 9" skillet. It's a bit snug for the chicken and the skin always sticks. Very frustrating. Then there is that pool of grease in the pan. Do you pour it out when you flip the bird the first time?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: tenggilis

                                When I'm greedy and counter Rodger's small bird suggestion by roasting a 4-lb. bird, I use a 12" skillet. It's kinda roomy, but I've had the best results w/ that pan compared to the All-Clad or cast iron. If it's too snug, I can see how the hot grease would splash out more and maneuvering the pan would feel a bit more life-threatening.

                                Surprised to hear about sticking w/ the Le Creuset. I don't own one so can't test it out myself. Make sure that you pre-heat the pan very well and that you hear a sizzle when you put the bird in. If not, then it may not be hot enough. You could always add a touch of high smoke point oil first to help it along.

                                Yes, I get the same pool of grease. I'm amazed at how much fat can come out of that bird. I love to see it though, since the more fat that's rendered, the better tasting the bird, in my experience. I don't pour it out when I flip. I don't think the recipe calls for that, plus I want to get the bird back into the oven ASAP.