I’ve been somewhat obsessed with roast chicken ever since the first time back in high school when I had dinner at my friend Neil’s house and his mom made it for dinner. For whatever reason, maybe because of my absolute awe at this amazing feat on any normal day of the week, it became tradition for his mom to pop a fowl in the oven any time she heard I was coming over for dinner.
So a few weeks ago I came back again to what is probably my favorite roast chicken recipe. If you’re into food and you’ve eaten in San Francisco chances are you’ve eaten at Zuni Cafe. If you’ve eaten at Zuni Cafe aaand you aren’t an idiot… chances are you’ve had the roast chicken. It’s one of those things that doesn’t sound like it could be that good… but really is. It takes an hour but the ambiance in Zuni is so great that the hour feels like 15 minutes and you end up wishing it was longer.
At home, this roast chicken takes a little more advanced preparation, but not really much more than an hour total time involved from hands on chicken to chicken in mouth. They serve it with “bread salad” at the restaurant but you can eat it with whatever sides or salad you want – truth is, all you need is a good beer or a glass of wine and you can eat this bird all by itself.
We had it with a pretty cool new(?) brew from Brooklyn Brewery called Local 2. There’s a Local 1 as well, but we opted for the 2. Dark but dry, sweet, slightly fruity but also a little bit chocolatey… good stuff.
Back to the bird. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about brining. But this salting is just too easy and too good. It’s so simple – the only thing you have to do to make sure it works out is get a small chicken. Otherwise, it’s foolproof.
*It takes at least one day of letting the bird soak up the salt before you can cook.
The secrets are salting ahead of time, and really high heat but shorter cooking time than you would usually use because of the small size of the chicken.
– get a small bird: 2.5-3.5 pounds
– dry it off really well with a paper towel, your shirt, handkerchief… whatever you have
– salt it with 1 teaspoon of kosher salt per pound of bird
– refrigerate the bird for at least a day, up to 3
– when you’re ready to cook, crank the oven somewhere in the neighborhood of 475f
– pop the bird in and roast breast side up for about 30 minutes until it’s nice and brown and sizzling like hell (you may have to cut the heat down a little bit if it’s getting too crazy in there and starting to smoke or burn)
– flip and roast for another 10 or so minutes
– flip again and roast for a final 5-10 minutes – in total about 45 minutes or so
*tuck the wings behind the body and you won’t need to worry about tying or trussing or any of that
**you can also shove a little bit of thyme under the skin of the bird if you’re into that sort of thing… it’s good.