Zuni Café Roast Chicken

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At the farmer’s market on Sunday, I noticed a new farm stand. It’s a little bit odd as this is the time of year that the farmer’s market shrinks a bit because a number of crops just aren’t growing anymore. What really intrigued me was that the farm, Ana’s Farm, was selling whole chickens.

For some farmer’s markets, this may be routine but our farmer’s market tends to be a bit smaller and concentrate on produce and, until recently, rather conventional produce. So, for me, this is cause for a bit of excitement. We like chicken and, so far, I’ve been pretty satisfied by the All-Natural Free-Range chickens that we’ve bought at Trader Joe’s. But I didn’t want to give up a chance to try a local chicken (despite the fact that it was pretty expensive).

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I didn’t ask what breed of chicken it was but I believe the vendor said that it wasn’t a Cornish chicken. It was pretty scrawny, about two and a half pounds, because, apparently, chickens stop eating for about a month when the weather changes.

I hadn’t come to farmer’s market with the intention of buying a chicken so I had to come up with something to cook with the chicken. And what better way to determine the quality of a chicken than by roasting it?

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But really, if you ask ten cooks how to roast a chicken, you’ll get at least eleven answers. Ever since we had eaten at the Zuni Café, I had wanted to try their recipe for roast chicken again (I had tried it previously off an internet recipe and wasn’t impressed but that was probably my fault). In the end, this ended up as a bit of a recreation of our meal at Zuni: I made french fries to go along with it.

Cooking the chicken was actually pretty easy. We did set off the smoke detector because the chicken let off too much smoke. And I did have to cook the fries a bit earlier as my oil started smoking and I didn’t have a better way to cool it off. The only frantic period was immediately at the end when I needed three or four different things to be done all at the same time (which is pretty usual with cooking dinner, for me at least).

And the results? That may have been the best roast chicken I’ve ever had. I’m not sure how much of it was technique and how much was the chicken itself, but I know two things: how I’m going to roast chickens from now on and where I’m going to buy them. I usually like dark meat but, on this chicken, the white meat was a combination of being moist and flavorful. The dark meat was a little more disappointing: it was a bit tough, particularly in the drumstick, but still tasty. I’m getting hungry just looking at the pictures again.

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Zuni Café Roast Chicken
Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

a 2 1/2 to 3 1/4 lbs. chicken
salt and pepper
4 sprigs of thyme
1/4 cup of water

  1. At least 24 hours in advance, prepare the chicken. Cut out any fat surrounding the entrance to the cavity. Dry the chicken skin with paper towels. Starting from the cavity entrance, create a pocket between the skin and the breast meat and place a sprig of thyme on each side. Do the same for the thighs. Generously sprinkle salt all over the chicken, with more salt on thicker areas. Grind pepper on to the chicken. Cover and refrigerate.
  2. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator an hour before cooking and dry its skin with paper towels again. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Place the roasting tray in the oven to preheat for 15 minutes before cooking. Remove the roasting tray from the oven and place the chicken in it, breast side up.
  3. Place the chicken in the oven and cook for 30 minutes. If the chicken does not being to sizzle and brown, increase the temperature. If the skin starts smoking, reduce the temperature.
  4. Turn the chicken to be breast side down and cook for 10 to 20 minutes depending on chicken size (ours only needed 10 minutes).
  5. Turn the chicken to be breast side up and cook for 5 more minutes.
  6. Remove the chicken from the oven and then from the roasting pan. Place the chicken on a warmed plate and let rest for 5 minutes.
  7. Add the water to the roasting pan to deglaze it. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes.
  8. Cut the chicken into pieces and drizzle with juices in the roasting pan. Serve.

Serves 2.

5 Responses to “Zuni Café Roast Chicken”


  1. 1 DocChuck December 11, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Great post and super photos. I roast chicken much the same way as you did, and have usually been very satisfied with the results.

    On the other hand, your fries looked much better than mine usually do.

    My problem is however, that I think that you may have been a bit “hoodwinked” by the person who sold you the chicken, particularly since you said that it was “pretty expensive.”

    As one who has raised chickens for my own use, the vendor’s remarks “chickens stop eating for about a month when the weather changes” is pure hogwash. Chickens NEVER stop eating, and the person who told you this nonsense is a liar.

    Trader Joe’s chickens, when cooked, taste no different than any supermarket major brand (Tyson’s or Pilgrim’s Pride).

    Now, I am a regular Trader Joe’s shopper, but I pretty well know how to cut through the hype . . . and MUCH of their product selection is pure HYPE, marketed so as to justify their higher prices.

    BOTTOM LINE is, however, if you were happy with the taste of the chicken . . . that is what’s important.

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. 2 Matt December 11, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    He may or may not have been telling the truth regarding whether or not chickens stop eating. He was actually telling someone else that and I overheard it. It was mainly to explain why their chickens were smaller (they seemed to top out at 2 1/2 lbs.). I don’t think it had anything to do with the price.

    As to a taste difference, I’ve personally noticed quite a taste difference between the Trader Joe’s All-Natural Free-Range chickens and Foster Farm’s chickens. The Trader Joe’s chickens are significantly better. The Foster Farm breasts in particular are rather dry and tasteless.

    I shop at Trader Joe’s because they tend to be cheaper for certain items (dairy products in particular) or have a bit higher quality. In no way am I obsessive about the place.

  3. 3 Jessamyn December 14, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    It really works great, doesn’t it? And using a small chicken makes a huge difference in how tender and juicy the meat turns out – I wish I could get 2 1/2 pound organic chickens, but they always seem to be at least 5.

    And I’ve raised chickens, too, and they certainly do not stop eating at any time. But hey, as long as it was a good chicken, so what?

  4. 4 Desiree November 16, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    I buy the cheapest whole chickens I can find- 88 cents per pound at Fareway (a cheap grocery store in Iowa) and my chicken isn’t dry or tasteless at all. I scald it before putting it in the oven- I pour not-quite-boiling hot water all over and I find that this makes a VERY moist chicken. I also put half a lemon in the cavity.

  5. 5 Craig November 15, 2010 at 11:38 am

    The key to the Zuni Cafe chicken is the seasoning of it – and the amount of time it is left. For chickens in the 2 lb. range they suggest that you salt it liberally and leave it loosely covered in the fridge for at least 24 hours. I have had the best results when I let it sit for about 36 hours.

    The other key is the drying of the chicken. If the chicken is completely dry the skin will crisp up more quickly because you are not technically steaming it.

    I also HIGHLY recommend the tuscan bread salad that they serve with the roast chicken at the Zuni Cafe. I have made it a few times with both chicken and other game birds. It truly is delicious.


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