Zuni roast chicken

As often as we can we do our best to keep up the tradition of the Sunday roast. It’s the one night where we turn off the TV and sit down at the dining table, enjoy the company and the food. This week we bought a free range organic chicken from the farmers market and decided to give the much praised Zuni Cafe roasting method a try (From Judy Rodgers, “Zuni Cafe Cookbook”).

Luckily we bought the bird on Saturday and were able to give the chicken a full 24 hours of salting (the recipe suggests 2 days). However I’ve read that the recipe still works if you don’t have time to leave it cure.

The Paupered Chef has a great photo montage of how to make the chicken.

The results were delicious, the chicken was amazingly juicy – even the breast meat (of which I’m usually not a big fan) melted in my mouth. If you like chicken and want to impress the guests, this recipe is for you.

Preparation time
Cooking time
1h 15m


  • 1 small chicken, 2-3/4 to 3-1/2-pounds. – I used bigger bird.
  • 4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long. – I used rosemary, as it’s about the only thing you can find easily at the moment.
  • Salt
  • About 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Seasoning the chicken (Can be done 1 to 3 days before serving; for 3-1/4- to 3-1/2-pound chickens, at least 2 days.

Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough—a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.

Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper {we use ¾ teaspoon of sea salt per pound of chicken}. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate. As suggested by Local Forage I put a quartered lemon inside the chicken.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Depending on the size, efficiency and accuracy of your oven, and the size of your bird, you may need to adjust the heat to as high as 500 or as low as 450 during the course of roasting the chicken to get it to brown properly. If that proves to be the case, begin at that temperature the next time you roast a chicken. If you have a convection function on your oven, use it for the first 30 minutes; it will enhance browning, and may reduce overall cooking by 5 to 10 minutes.

Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle. Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Place the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. (If the chicken is closer to room temp, this also helps the skin not to stick.) Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to re-crisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes. Total oven time will be 45 minutes to an hour. Since my bird was quite large it took about 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Finishing and serving

Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat.

Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting oven, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. I did this and then removed the bird from the pan and put it onto a plate.

Set the chicken in a warm spot and leave to rest. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two.

Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste—the juices will be extremely flavorful.


There are 2 Comments

  1. Hi Jared,
    Nice blog.

    Can you do me a huge favor and link to me in that paragraph that mentions the lemons. You got the name but not the link.

    Thanks mucho!

    p.s. Are you on twitter?

  2. So sorry about that. I generally write my posts in notepad and generally go back through and insert the links. Now rectified.

    you can find me on twitter @jfolkmann

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