On our Facebook poll for the best restaurant chicken in the West, Zuni Café in San Francisco came out on top. This recipe is inspired by the method outlined in The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rodgers. A small chicken comes out the juiciest; a bigger one, the most crisp.
1 chicken, 3* to 4 1/2 lbs., lumps of fat and tail removed, rinsed and patted very dry
Fine sea salt (1 1/2 tsp. for a 3- to 3 3/4-lb. chicken or 2 tsp. for a 4- to 4 1/2-lb. chicken)
Pepper (3/4 tsp. for a smaller chicken or 1 tsp. for a larger one)
About 1 tbsp. olive oil (for plain or French Herb chicken)
How to Make It
Slide 2 fingers between breast skin and meat on chicken to make pockets. Turn chicken over and loosen thigh skin the same way. Mix salt and pepper; evenly rub 1/4 tsp. over meat in each pocket and the rest over outside of bird. Put chicken on a rack in a rimmed pan, very loosely cover with plastic wrap, and chill 2 days.
Pat chicken dry inside and out. Make seasoning, if using, and add to chicken as directed. Oil chicken (for plain or French Herb). Set chicken breast-up on a V-shaped rack in a 12- by 17-in. roasting pan; tuck wing tips under if you like. Let stand at room temperature 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 475°.
Roast chicken until an instant-read thermometer inserted horizontally through thickest part of breast reaches 160°, 30 to 45 minutes for a smaller bird or 45 to 50 minutes for a larger one. Transfer chicken to a warm platter and let stand in a warm place about 10 minutes.
*To find small (uncooked) chickens, try markets that roast rotisserie birds (which are small) on-site.
Note: Nutritional analysis is per serving plain chicken.
i have used this recipe several times and it's very good. i have never had the experience of the other reviewer. i have always used slightly larger chickens (6-7 lbs). i always use a probe thermometer so i can monitor as the chicken cooks. at this high temperature the chicken sometimes cooks more quickly than stated in the recipe, which is all to the good on a week night after a long day at work.
A 475-degree oven is too hot; halfway through baking, I checked only to find the kitchen filled with smoke. My wife said she had suspected such. We turned the oven down to 425, moved the chicken to the bottom shelf, put a piece of aluminum foil over the top, and finished -- turning the exhaust fan on high to clear the kitchen of smoke. The chicken turned out beautifully, so with these temperature and baking adjustments, we think the recipe has potential.
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