I will always remain in awe of culinary pioneers who in the 70s taught Americans to value locally grown food during an era when the word “imported” was synonymous with quality. Chefs like Alice Waters and Judy Rodgers threw cold water on the posh menus of the day laden with boasts of foreign provenance. Their menu selections looked within our own local farmers’ market showcasing the farm stand brocoli from down the street and simple roasted chicken seasoned with herbs grown in pots in the window of their own restaurants. On Monday, December 1st, we lost a great chef and culinary writer, Judy Rodgers, of San Franciscan Cafe Zuni. Many of her recipes have been famous for many decades and were published in her cookbook but the one of the best known is the roasted chicken to which she dedicates three pages in her Cafe Zuni Cookbook.
What is so great about this chicken recipe? The details that make this chicken like no other are as follows. First of all using a smaller, high quality chicken, secondly salting and seasoning under the skin and in the cavity liberally at least 24 hours in advance. The salt extracts the water from the bird which aids in roasting rather than steaming the bird (creating that special golden skin). Last but not least, the cooking time and temperature. She preheats the pan and roasts at a high temperature (500 degrees) for only 45 minutes total and allows the bird to rest where it finishes cooking. Over-cooking is what usually ruins most American roast chickens as we forget that the chicken keeps cooking long after we remove it from the oven. Thank you for this and so much more Judy!
Zuni’s Cafe Roasted Chicken, as shared by Judy in Food and Wine Magazine,
One 2 3/4-pound free-range chicken
4 thyme sprigs
4 small garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Bread Salad with Currants and Pine Nuts, for serving
Using your fingers, gently loosen the skin from the chicken breasts and thighs. Stuff the thyme and garlic under the skin and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle the salt all over the chicken and season with pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
Preheat the oven to 500°. Preheat a large cast-iron skillet in the oven for 5 minutes. Put the chicken in the skillet, breast side up, and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken breast side down and roast for about 15 minutes longer, or until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced. Transfer the chicken to a board and let rest for 10 minutes; carve.
Skim the fat from the juices in the skillet. Arrange the Bread Salad with Currants and Pine Nuts on a platter and top with the chicken. Pour the juices over all and serve.
Choose a full bodied white wine that pairs well with chicken or turkey. I like Lettie Teague’s recommendation for local wine for Thanksgiving like Macari Vineyards 2012 “Katherine’s Field” ($17) is a “citrusy, fresh and well-rounded white.”