Far be it from us to claim to have improved on a classic, but…well, that’s more or less what we’re claiming. The classic in question is the roast chicken with bread salad from the late, great Judy Rodgers of Zuni Café. Without question, the dish she is most remembered for is the roast chicken served with a warm bread salad featuring pine nuts, currants, and spicy greens—a dish that still lives on at her restaurant, Zuni Café.
The central secret to her recipe calls for salting the chicken in advance (a technique since dubbed “dry-brining”, which, let’s be honest, is a bit self-contradictory). The other elements of the process are using a smallish bird (which will be less lean and quicker to cook) and roasting at high heat for maximum browning.
The result, a superlatively moist, tender, and flavorful roast chicken, is not to be argued with. As good as this sounds, by cooking ours sous vide and chilling before roasting, we remove any risk of overcooking, granting a foolproof method for the ever-elusive ideal roast chicken.
Pair this with what Ms. Rodgers aptly described as “Sort of a scrappy extramural stuffing”, genius in its variety of textures and play of flavors (sweet, acid, salty, rich), and it’s easy to account for the fervor surrounding the dish. We elected to use almonds and sour cherries in place of the currants and pine nuts in ours, and feel little shame in thinking it an improvement. Feel free to make your own tweaks on the path to roast chicken nirvana.