Saturday, March 17, 2007

Zuni Chicken, So-Cal Style

foodblog 1784
It's almost impossible to go wrong with a crispy-skinned roasted chicken - and in my experience, nothing sets off the flavor of that chicken like Zuni's Cafe's bread salad. I've never had it at the restaurant, but the first time I made it, I followed the ridiculously specific directions to a "t" - with delicious results. My only complaints, if you could call them that, were that the dish seemed a bit more fattening than it needed to be to taste good, and there weren't enough greens. (I guess maybe those are related, actually.)

I "fixed" these issues in the subsequent times I've made this dish, and this time I went even a little bit further - adding a couple of my favorite local ingredients - lemon and avocado. In true laid-back Southern California style, this recipe is a little lighter, a little simpler and a little easier than it's Nor Cal cousin, but at least in my opinion, it's every bit as delicious.

I didn't want to mess with the elements that give the salad it's essential character - the slivered green onions and garlic, the combination of red wine and champagne vinegar, the chicken drippings, and the currants and pine nuts. For the bread though, I used some leftover torta rolls that I bought at El Pescador earlier this week - and I went with a balance of slightly more greens than bread. I added the squeeze of lemon juice to brighten it up, and tossed in chunks of just-ripe avocado at the very end. When everthing was ready, I carved the chicken up and tossed it all together with the salad in a large wooden bowl. It's truly the definition of a one dish meal - with the protein, bread and salad all in one.

To lighten it, I toasted the bread without oiling it, and used more greens and a little less chicken drippings than called for. I didn't notice the difference at all - but these things can, of course, be adjusted to taste.

So-Cal Style Zuni Chicken Salad
adapted from the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco

You just can't improve the method for brining and roasting the chicken. I put mine in the fridge to brine when I left for work, and roasted it when I got home. I also used a 4 and a half pound chicken - which is larger than she recommends, but it worked just fine. Other than that I followed exactly the same method I used before.

A 3.5 to 4.5 pound chicken, (use the roasting directions here)
2 large telera rolls or torta rolls, sliced in half lengthwise
4 cloves of garlic, slivered
4 -5 scallions, diagonally sliced - including some green part
olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup currants
red wine vinegar
a little hot water
champagne vinegar
half a lemon
1 large ripe avocado, diced
salt and pepper
3-4 large handfuls of tender bitter greens - arugula, baby romaine, escarole, etc.

After the chicken goes in the oven, trim the crusty tops of the torta rolls so that they are flat, and toast them until they are golden brown and dry. Stack them on a cutting board and cut them into rough one inch squares, then put them in the salad bowl.

Place the currants in a small bowl with a little hot water and enough red wine vinegar to just cover them. Set aside and allow to soften.

Cook the slivered garlic and onion in small skillet with a little olive oil until soft and translucent. Add to the bread, along with the pine nuts, and toss.

When the chicken is about fifteen minutes from coming out of the oven, add the currants and most of their vinegar into the mix, and drizzle with champagne vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil to taste. Toss to coat. Add the greens and toss again.

When the chicken comes out of the oven, drizzle some of the the hot pan juices from the chicken over the bread and greens and toss again. The greens may wilt, so add more as needed. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt, pepper and vinegar. The bread should be crisp and chewy, rather than soggy. Just before serving, add the avocado and toss gently, then place the chicken on top.

Devour with cold white wine (with your fingers if no one's watching!)


  1. I made the full fat version and LOVED it. I will have to give this one a try for sure!

  2. Chicken drippings? Really? Weren't we just talking about the meatrix and factory farming? Seriously though, chicken drippings sound a bit on the icky side.

    Everything looks good, but I can't help think about those drippings....

  3. Yes, Jef, I know. It was an organic chicken, but still... The drippings are great in this recipe, It's kind of like a deconstructed stuffing with greens mixed in. You don't use a whole lot. Trust me, it's good.