January 24, 2010

Sunday Night Dinner with Rich - The Zuni Cafe Edition

Number 19 in an infrequent but always interesting dinner series - the random cookbook Sunday night dinner. This week's edition: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.

To recap the dinner premise: every Sunday that Rich and I are both in town, we choose a cookbook at random and cook an entire meal from it. The cheat this week was that Sunday night's dinner was actually last night - Saturday. Sadly Rich is jetting to Hong Kong this morning. And so begins the crazy travel calendar for 2010.

But back to dinner. The second cheat is always in the choosing. Although I'm confident that every one of my cookbooks can yield a perfectly respectable, even delicious, meal, Richard is less trusting. So sometimes the random draw becomes a “best of three” effort.

Yesterday was no exception. We started with The World’s Best Recipes, a 1969 relic from my mother. This, from the introduction by Helmut Ripperger:
"You hold in your hand a collection of recipes contributed by the finest cooks in the world. Choice fare of all nations is here in this culinary anthology – prepared as we Americans like it…Whether you and your family are just folks who enjoy good food, or whether you are gourmets who have searched the world for adventures in eating, nowhere will you find more de luxe menu selections than offered here…"
And so on – almost five pages of tiny type on fragile yellow paper. Alas, the Esterházy Rostbraten, the Tournedos Niçoise  and the Biscuit Tortoni, Dom Pedro II, will have to wait for another day. The second draw yielded Blue Ribbon Recipes: Award Winning Recipes from America’s Country Fairs. Nope. Didn’t even merit a flip-through from Richard.

Third time lucky: The Zuni Café Cookbook

On the eve of a journey that will be full of more dim sum than you can shake a chopstick at, Rich gets first choice on what to cook. Happily, Zuni Café is famous for its roast chicken and that’s exactly what he craves.

We start by picking up a chicken and bacon at Rowe Farms

Judy is adamant about salting the bird at least 24 hours in advance (and for at least two days if the bird is more than 3 lbs). Twenty four hours we do not have so we hurry home to salt the chicken before picking up the rest of the meal's ingredients.

The other dishes fall into place around the main course – we’ll start with Rosemary-Grilled Chicken Livers & Bacon with Balsamic-Onion Marmalade Toasts, use the fresh Red Fife linguine I bought at the Green Barn Market in Pasta with Spicy Broccoli & Cauliflower, and serve a side of butter lettuce with a shallot vinaigrette next to the famous Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad.


Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad
a shorthand version from The Zuni Café Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers

While the type isn't tiny and on fragile yellow paper, this recipe is almost as long as Helmut Ripperger's intro: more than four pages. To get the full effect - and the wonderful details - of this recipe, get thee to a cookbook store and buy the book! What follows is an abbreviated taste of the original (ingredients and amounts bolded). We could not find a small chicken, so for our 3¾ lb. bird, we used the maximum cooking times below.

1. Rinse and pat very dry a small (2¾ to 3¼ lb) chicken. Make two small "pockets" under the skin on each side of the breast, and do the same on the outside of the thickest part of the thigh. Using your fingers, slide a sprig of fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage in the pockets.

2. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper (¾ teaspoon of salt per pound is the recommended amount). Use less salt on the ankles and wings, and salt the interior of the chicken sparingly. I use a seasoned salt from a tiny farmer's market in Paris that's flavoured with onion, garlic, thyme and oregano.

3. Several hours before you're ready to start roasting the chicken, begin preparing the bread salad. Cut 8 ounces of slightly stale, chewy peasant-style bread (I bought a good quality day-old baguette from my local grocer) into several large chunks. Trim off the bottom crust and most of the top and side crusts. Brush the bread all over with olive oil, and broil, turning once, until the bread is crisp and lightly coloured (about two minutes per side).

4. Trim any charred bits and tear the bread into chunks of various sizes, ranging from 2- to 3- inch wads to crunchy bits. Be careful! the bread is hot. You should have about 4 cups.

5. Combine ¼ cup olive oil with 1½ tbsp. Champagne vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss bread with a ¼ of the vinaigrette (the bread will not be evenly dressed). Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Set aside.

6. Take 1 tbsp dried currants and soak in 1 tsp red wine vinegar and 1 tbsp warm water. Set aside.

Of course, the cooks must have their fun, so it's time a for a drink and a snack. Nothing like a G+T and nothing better than Hendrick's!

Are you ready to roast the chicken?

7. Pre-heat the oven to 500F. If you have a convection setting, use it for the first 30 minutes of roasting. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan, or a 10-inch ovenproof skillet with a metal handle - something that is barely bigger than the chicken. Heat the pan over medium heat while you wipe the chicken dry.

STOP! Resist the temptation to add oil to the pan.  By preheating it, and drying the chicken thoroughly, it won't stick - I promise!

8. Set the chicken breast side up in the pan. Place the pan in the centre of the oven; it should start sizzling and browning within 20 minutes. Adjust temperature down if the chicken appears to be charring or smoking. After 30 minutes, remove from oven and turn the bird over. It's getting nice and brown! (Don't forget to turn off the convection setting if you've used it for the first 30 minutes...)

9. While the chicken is roasting, place 2 tbsp pine nuts in a small baking pan and put in the hot oven alongside chicken, to heat through - one to two minutes. Add to the bread salad.

10. Sliver two to three garlic cloves, and saute in a small amount of oil over medium heat with ¼ cup slivered green onions, until softened. Fold into bread salad, along with drained currants. Dribble salad with 2 tbsp chicken broth and fold gently. Taste and adjust for salt. Transfer to a baking dish and tent loosely with foil.

11. Roast chicken for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size.

12. Turn the bird one last time to recrisp the breast, another 5 to 10 minutes. At this point, put the bread salad in the oven as well. When the chicken is done, turn off the heat, and remove from oven; leave the bread salad in the oven for another five minutes.

13. Transfer chicken to a plate, and carefully pour fat from the pan. Add one tbsp water to the lean drippings left behind.

14. Slash the skin between the thighs and the breasts of the chicken, and carefully tilt the bird and plate over roasting pan so that the juices pour into the drippings.

15.  Getting close... Set the chicken aside to rest while you finish the salad. Place the roasting pan with the drippings and the chicken juices over medium-low heat and simmer.   Drizzle and toss the bread salad with a spoonful or two of the delicious juices. Add a couple of handfuls of cleaned baby arugula, a drizzle of the vinaigrette and fold gently.

16. Spread the bread salad on a warmed platter, cut the chicken into pieces and serve atop the bread salad.

Oh my goodness. That's good.