The Legendary Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken. Courtesy of Brit Harling
Zuni Cafe in San Franciso will always hold a special place in my heart, as it does with every other person I know that has had the chance to visit. Opened in 1979 and taken over in 1987 by Chef Judy Rogers, Zuni Cafe is known for its careful treatment of ingredients and true passion for local food. Judy, along with a handful of like-minded chefs in the 80's, changed the food scene as we know it and the love that she infused in every single dish she helped create can still be tasted in the food today. As you enter you're welcomed by the warm, comforting smell of the wood fire and as you walk past the oyster bar and head upstairs, you are greeted by perfectly set tables placed in every nook and cranny of the historic building.
The Roast Chicken at Zuni Cafe is truly something of legend and in fact, one of the reasons we made the pilgrimmage to San Francisco at all. And if you ever needed convincing to order rich, full bodied Chardonnay from Napa, this would do it, trust me. We happily shared a bottle of Chardonnay from Hanzell vineyards and the rich lemon and buttered toast notes in the wine elevated the wood fired flavours of the chicken and complimented the rich and perfectly crisp and panzanella salad.
After exposing our tastebuds to this euphoric experience, we had to try and recreate it at home. I stumpled upon this recipe in the New York Times and, although not quite the experience we had at Zuni Cafe, this recipe prepared at home and served with a white wine with some weight to it (Chardonnay is the classic pairing but you could try a Viura or Grenache Blanc from Spain) was as close as we were going to get without jumping on a plane and heading south.
One small chicken (2 3/4 - 3 1/2 lbs)
4 sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, saje or rosemary
1/4 stp ground black pepper
1/2 loaf stale sourdough bread
Season chicken 1 - 3 days before serving. Remove lump of fat inside chicken, rinse well and pat dry.
Slide finger under skin of each breast and thigh and make 4 little pockets. Push an herb sprig into each pocket.
Using 3/4 tsp sea salt per pound of chicken and pepper to taste, season chicken liberayy. Sprinkle a little sea salt inside the cavity. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover oosely and refrigerate.
WHen you're ready to cook the chicken, heat oven to 475 degrees F. You may need to adjust slightly to brown teh chcken properly.
Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan barely larger than the chicken and preheat the pan to medium heat. Place the chicken in breast side up. You should hear a sizzle.
Place in centre of oven and watch for it to brown in 20 minutes. If it doesn't, raise the temperature progressively until it does. If the chicken begins to char, turn down the heat by 25 degrees. After 30 minutes of cooking turn the bird over and roast for another 20 minutes. Then flip back over for 5 - 10 minutes to crisp the skin. Total cooking time is 45 min - 1 hour.
Remove chicken form roasting pan and set on a plate. Remove clear fat from pan but leave drippings. Add a tbsp water to pan and swirl. Slice the skin above the thighs/breasts and pour drippings from the plate into roasting pan. Place pan over medium heat with torn pieces of sourdough and allow to brown. Cut chicken into pieces and serve over top of bread.
When pairing wine with roast chicken you want to look for either full bodied white like Chardonnay or Viognier
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