Colorado Springs gets easy recipe for complicated roasted chicken with bread salad

Roasted chicken with bread salad is a complicated dish served at the famous Zuni Café in San Francisco, but it’s easily simplified for a delicious one-skillet meal.

I’m not shy about tackling complicated recipes, but I’ve been putting off doing a particular one for, honestly, the past 20 years. Back in 2002, I spotted the late Judy Rodgers’ recipe for roasted chicken with bread salad in her “The Zuni Café Cookbook.” She put the dish on the menu of her famous Zuni Café in San Francisco in the late ‘80s, and it became (and still is) the restaurant’s calling card.

Although the recipe is rustic, it’s anything but simple. Rodgers meticulously details the steps in over four pages of the cookbook, and while it can easily be accomplished in a professional kitchen with a crew of chefs, doing it at home is not an easy task.

Even at the Zuni Café, when diners order the chicken, they need to plan on having some appetizers and a cocktail because it takes an hour to prepare the dish. That’s because the chicken is wood-fire roasted under a brick on a bed of cubed rustic bread (in this case, from Acme Bread Company in Berkeley, Calif.), which soaks up the juices from the bird. The chicken is juicy, tender and flavorful. When the chicken is done, the bird is removed from the bread bed and carved. The crunchy bread is tossed with spicy arugula in a tangy Champagne dressing and served with the cut-up chicken. It makes for a delicious meal.

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Over the years, I ran across others who attempted to demystify the preparation into something more home cook–friendly, but I had yet to try my hand at it. That is, until I read a review last year of “Cooking Between Friends,” a new cookbook by best friends Jesse Tyler Ferguson, star of “Modern Family,” and recipe developer Julie Tanous.

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One of the recipes featured in the review was their Buttermilk Roasted Chicken with Crunchy Croutons. As I read the recipe, it sounded like a mashup of Rodgers’ recipe and James Beard’s famous 40-clove garlic chicken dish.

Ferguson and Tanous did several experiments with chicken to determine the best way to get the skin browned. They tried an olive oil rub and one with ghee (clarified butter, used in Indian food). They settled on butter, but they also found that giving the fowl a good soak in buttermilk overnight really did the trick.

“Not only do you get acidity and tenderness from the buttermilk,” Tanous wrote in the recipe note, “but it also helps the chicken brown and crisp.”

I followed their recipe and got great results. I’ve since made my own changes, including increasing the number of garlic cloves to 40, matching the number Beard uses in his roasted chicken recipe. Garlic loses its strong flavor when roasted and instead takes on a mellow, sweet one.

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I also add a little low-sodium chicken broth to the dried bread cubes. This helps prevent the bread not directly under the chicken from getting overly browned. Since Acme bread is not available here, I use a loaf of unsliced Le Brea country bread from King Soopers. And I make an arugula salad with Rodgers’ salad dressing and serve it as a side.

The results I get are close enough to the original that I’m OK with skipping the cost of airfare to visit the Zuni Café. Here’s my version of the recipe.

Contact the writer: 636-0271.

contact the writer: 636-0271.

Food editor

Food writer for features life section and columnist for Go! Entertainment - Table Talk column

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