Friday, September 11, 2009

Zuni chicken tonight!

Photograph from

One day, driving home from work, NPR had a most engaging story about, of all things, a roast chicken from a restaurant we had just visited in San Francisco, the Zuni Cafe. I came home, packed up my husband and drove straight to the restaurant. Apparently, half of San Francisco had the same idea, so we didn't get seated until almost 9. But oh, was it worth it.

Flash forward a few more years, and I reviewed "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook." To my surprise and delight, it was light years ahead of most chef-based cookbooks; Judy Rogers actually wanted to teach folks how to cook in her delicious manner, not just impress potential customers with her brilliance. I tested the chicken at home and it quickly became one of my favorites, with or without the bread salad she paired with it.

I'm going to try it again tonight, and hope that my badly exhausted kitchen doesn't fill with smoke.

The original recipe is several pages of small type and instructions; this version was adapted by and I think it gives you the idea quite well.

Zuni Cafe’s Roasted Chicken
Adapted from the cookbook from the Zuni Cafe, San Francisco

Serves 2 to 4

One small chicken, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2-pounds
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 to 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
A little water

Season the chicken: [1 to 3 days before serving; give a 3 1/4 to 3 1/2-pound chicken at least 2 days]

Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough — a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown.

Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Prepare your oven and pan: [Day of, total time is 45 minutes to 1 hour]

Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle (we used a 12-inch cast iron frying pan for a 3 1/2 pound chicken). Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

Roast the chicken: Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.

Rest the chicken: Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it.

Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. You can let it rest while you finish your side dishes (or Bread Salad, below). The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Serve the chicken: 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.

Cut the chicken into pieces, spread on the warm platter (on top of the Bread Salad, if using).

Capitalize on leftovers: Strain and save the drippings you don’t use, they are delicious tossed with spätzle or egg noodles, or stirred into beans or risotto. You can also use them, plus leftover scraps of roast chicken, for a chicken salad.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

No leftovers left behind

Good for designer and writer Erik Trinidad, who revamps fast-food meals to look like they'd be at home in a fine restaurant. That's his Chicken McNugget Confit at right, from

His tagline on the site: “Yeah, it’s still bad for you — but see how good it can look.”

But I'd like to see some of Trinidad's energy to go into making leftovers look good. Think of all the food that's wasted every day in this country that, with a little imagination and care, could have an encore worthy of applause.

Until he takes up the gauntlet, let me provide a few hints for using leftovers:
  • Don't use the microwave for reheating everything. While vegetables are very good reheated that way, it's not as good for any food containing oil or fat (they heat really quickly) and it's a disaster for anything with bread or Parmesan cheese.
  • Use a container appropriate to the size of the food. The original dish may have been fine in a 4-quart casserole, but if you only have a serving or two left over, dish it into something smaller.
  • Think of something fresh to add to the leftovers and make it into a whole new dish. Or add a salad.
  • If all else fails, cover it with shedded cheese. It will melt quickly, and pleases most everyone, except dairy-intolerant, vegans or dieters.
Tonight I had some carnitas and plain rice to use up. I put the rice in a covered casserole dish and sprinkled it with water; sautéed some sliced crimini mushrooms and whole baby onions and scattered them over it; then topped it off with the carnitas. I covered the dish and put it in a 425 degree oven for 10 minutes, removed the lid and let the carnitas brown a little for another 10 minutes. I served it with a salad of sliced tomatoes dressed with pesto, green onions and basil ribbons, and a loaf of crusty whole wheat bread. Not once were the words "Leftovers again?" uttered.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A little snack lunch

Our lunch today.

1 avocado, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon diced tomato, seeds removed
1 tablespoon small diced jalapeño
1 tablespoon minced green onion
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (gives tamarind flavor)
Limon salt and pepper to taste

Mix everything together in a small bowl, mashing the avocado a bit to make it creamy.

6 corn tortillas
Kosher salt

Heat oven to 350. Wet each tortilla, shake off the excess water and cut or tear into 8 wedges each. put like so /\/\/\ across a large cookie sheet so that you don't have much room between them. Salt lightly. Bake for about 10 minutes or until edges begin to brown; turn off the oven and keep them in there another 5-10 minutes until crisp. They will lift off the sheet easily when done.

Other dips
Salsa, tomatillo sauce, refried black beans

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Miscellaneous tips

  • Purchase the heaviest set of cookware you can afford. If you go for nonstick, be aware that you will need to replace it as soon as it gets scratched or scorched, since the coating will then start to flake off and get into your food.
  • If you have a problem opening jars: Try using latex dishwashing gloves. They give a no-slip grip that makes opening jars easy.
  • When browning ground meat, brown several pounds and drain. Divide into single servings and freeze. Unthaw in microwave for a quicker lunch or dinner. Also, when cooking chicken breasts, do several at a time and use them in sandwiches and salads through the week.
  • When making roux for a recipe, make extra and keep in the refrigerator for future use.
  • Cheese won't harden if you butter the exposed edges before storing.
  • An unusual way to clean your grater after grating cheese: Use a raw potato after the cheese. The potato clears the gummy cheese out of the holes.
  • Always use pure maple syrup. Its worth the extra price for its nutrition. If your kids use a lot of it, thin it yourself with sugar syrup.
  • Whenever possible, warm your dinner plates slightly in the oven. It’ll keep your dinner warm longer.
  • Marinate red meats in wine to tenderize. Marinate chicken in buttermilk to tenderize.
  • While cooking smelly foods, soak a cloth towel in vinegar and let it dry in the cooking area. It will absorb the smell of cooking and keep the room fresh.
  • To keep salt from clogging in the shaker, add 1/2 teaspoon of uncooked rice. A dried bay leaf added to the flour container will keep the flour free from moisture and deter pests.
  • Love hand-mixed meatloaf but hate getting gunk under your nails? Use latex or plastic gloves. Or put your mitts into plastic bags first.
  • To clean and freshen wooden chopping blocks, counter or rolling pins, sprinkle table salt on these surfaces when they are wet and scrub. Let dry, then brush off the salt.
  • Bread crusts are ideal for cleaning the meat grinder; then add to the meat dish for flavor. Clean coffee or spice grinders with bread, too.
  • To keep a recipe book or card clean while you're cooking, place it under an upside-down glass pie plate. The curved bottom also magnifies the print.
  • Leftover beef stew can be blended to a puree and used as a base for hearty soups.
  • A corner cut from an envelope and pierced at the point makes a good funnel for filling salt and pepper shakers.