It’s been a while since we posted… it’s a long story… it might be a while before we post again, but we had to get this up because it is fantastic. Perhaps May doesn’t seem like the month for roasted birds, but with the May we’ve been having here, roast bird felt right. We’ve roasted our share of chickens over the past few years, with good results. Always satisfying on a cold day, always nostalgic, but never has one knocked our socks off and made our eyes pop until this one. In fact, we dubbed it recipe of the year for 2010. I know, it’s 2011.
The first time we made this dish, I swore it was one of the best things I’d ever eaten, but I thought it was a fluke. (From time to time you hear famous eaters say that roast chicken is the perfect dish, final meal kind of fantastic. I always thought either they were exaggerating or they were lying. Now I don’t think either of those things). We did it again, exactly as we did the first time, just to see. Same thing. Better than any roast bird either of us has ever had, restaurants included.
By some mixture of science and magic, brining a bird renders it tender, juicy, and super tasty. We are writing down directions for preparing this chicken and bread salad exactly as we did and all I can say is that it has worked perfectly twice now in our hands and so I am very hopeful that it will in any kitchen. We’ve been on a big Zuni Cafe Cookbook kick recently, and a lot of this recipe was pulled from there. We made a few changes though, and they seemed to work so well that I’d encourage everyone else to too, even if you have the Zuni book. For those of you who tend to use recipes more as a guide than as a strict set of directions (Melanie, I’m talking to you), try making this one by the book at least once before veering off. We also have converted the recipe for a half-chicken, which is better suited to dinner for two.
Bread Salad with Pan Roasted Chicken
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
For the Brine
- 2.5 lemons, halved
- 12 bay leaves
- ~2 oz flat leaf parsley
- small bunch of thyme
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 head of garlic
- 1/4 cup peppercorns
- 1 cup kosher salt, preferably diamond crystal
- 1 gallon water
For the chicken
- One half chicken,
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- freshly cracked black pepper
For the salad
- Generous 8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread
- 6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
- 1-1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
- Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried currants
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, or as needed
- 1 tablespoon warm water
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
- 1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part
- 2 tablespoons lightly salted Chicken Stock or lightly salted water
- A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried
Brine the chicken: Split a whole chicken into 2 equal halves down the breastbone. combine all ingredients in large pot, cover and bring to boil. boil 1 minute, stir to dissolve salt. remove from the heat and cool completely, then chill before using. brine can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Roast the chicken: Preheat oven to 450˚F. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Tuck thyme underneath the skin all over the bird. If you’re feeling decadent, smear some soft butter underneath the skin on the meat of the chicken as well. Heat oven in a heavy oven proof skillet until it moves easily across the pan. Place the chicken, skin side down in the skillet and brown, about 5 minutes. Turn the bird over and place the skillet in the oven. Cook for about 15 minutes, looking for the chicken to start sizzling and continue browning. After about 10 minutes, baste the chicken by spooning the fat and juice in the pan over the top of the bird every few minutes. After about 15 minutes in the oven, turn the chicken again and continue basting the other side for about 10 minutes. Turn the bird back over one more time to re-crisp the breast side, continuing with the periodic basting. Total time will vary depending on the size of the chicken and the heat of the oven. The temperature of the breast meat should read about 165˚F when you remove the chicken from the oven (the temperature will continue to rise as the bird rests.
Start the bread salad (can be done a few hours ahead):
Preheat the broiler. Cut the bread into large chunks, carving off all of the bottom crust and most of the top and side crust. Brush the bread all over with olive oil or toss bread chunks with olive oil in a large bowl. Broil very briefly, until crisp and lightly colored. Keep a close watch as bread can burn very quickly under the broiler. Turn over and crisped the other side until light brown. Remove from the oven and trim off any badly charred bits, then tear the bread into irregular chunks about 1 to 3 inches large.
Combine 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the Champagne or white whine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide bowl; don’t worry if the bread is unevenly dressed. Taste a coated piece of bread and season with salt and pepper if needed. Moisten the currents in a small bowl with the red wine vinegar and warm water. Set aside.
Assemble the salad:
While the chicken is roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish and set in the hot oven for a minute or two, just to warm through (they’ll burn quickly). Add them to the bowl of dressed bread.
Put a dollop of olive oil in a small skillet and cook the garlic and scallions over medium-low heat, stirring, until softened but not colored. Add the garlic and scallions to the bread mixture and fold to combine. Drain the currants and fold in. Dribble the chicken stock over the salad and fold again. Taste another piece of bread and season with salt and pepper, or a few drops of vinegar, and toss well.
Pile the bread salad in a 1-quart baking dish and tent with foil; set the bowl aside. Place the salad in the oven when the chicken has about 5 to 10 minutes remaining.
Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Leave the bread salad to continue warming for another 5 minutes or so.
Lift the chicken from the pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind, or use a fat-separating measuring cup. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it to release any browned bits.
Slash the taught skin between the thighs and breast of the bird and tilt the chicken and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings.
Set the chicken in a warm spot, tent with foil and allow to rest for 5 minutes while you finish the bread salad.
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.
Tip the bread salad into the salad bowl. It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again.
Cut the chicken into large pieces including the skin, spread the bread salad on the warm platter, and nestle the chicken in the salad.