If you've even distractedly skimmed this blog before, you know about my obsession with the Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken recipe and how it produces -- indisputably -- the juiciest, most delectable roast chicken imaginable. Now, many otherwise discerning food blogs (see examples here and here) will tell you, as I once made the mistake of saying, that you should make the chicken and skip the bread salad, probably because the bread salad recipe has about a gazillion convoluted steps and takes up 3/4 of the recipe in the Zuni Cafe Cookbook (which, let's face it, is not the most clearly written cookbook in the first place).
Our recent trip to Zuni Cafe, however, has taught me that anyone who tells you to skip the bread salad is a fool, me included. The bread salad is the raison d'etre of the recipe. You roast the chicken so that you can enjoy the bread salad. That you also get juicy, delectable roast chicken out of the process is a bonus, the cherry on the sundae, so to speak.
And once I came to this epiphany, I knew I had to make the entirety of the recipe, including the bread salad. Every single convoluted complicated step. And you know what? It actually wasn't as complicated as it seemed! And it didn't add that much time: in fact, in the amount of time it takes you to roast the chicken (45 mins. to 1 hr.), you can finish the whole dish.
Here's the bread salad recipe, courtesy of the Zuni Cookbook, with some minor economizing edits from me.
To make the bread salad, you start out by following all the directions to prep and roast the chicken. I won't reiterate those, since you can find the recipe here or here.
Now, take 1 loaf of day-old peasant bread. Carefully slice off the top and bottom crusts, taking care not to take off too much of the bread itself (or it will make you sad). Tear the loaf into 2 to 3-in. wads, brush a little bit of olive oil over the bread chunks, and place the chunks into the oven (in which you are already roasting the chicken at 475 degrees) for a minute or so until the bread is lightly toasted.
Combine 1/4 cup of olive oil with 1.5 to 2 tbsp of Champagne or white wine vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this vinaigrette with the torn bread in a salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.
If you have some dried currants, you can take about 1 tbsp of them in a small bowl, reconstitute them with a tbsp of red wine vinegar, and set aside. (We didn't have any currants so I just left this part of the recipe out.)
Toast about two tbsp of pine nuts, just until warm (about a minute), in the oven as you're roasting the chicken.
Then in a small skillet, heat a tbsp of olive oil. Add 2-3 garlic cloves (thinly slivered) and 1/4 cup of thinly sliced scallions. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don't let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine.
At this point you can also add the plumped currants, if you're using them.
Taste the bread salad again. If it's bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, chicken stock, or lightly salted water.
Pile the bread salad in a baking dish (whatever you'll be serving the chicken in is just fine) and tent with foil. Reserve the bowl in which you tossed the salad; you'll use it again later.
Place the baking dish with the bread salad in it in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time (i.e., during the last 5-10 minutes of roasting).
Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Leave the bread salad to continue warming for another 5 minutes of so.
Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. At this point, you want to carefully pour the clear fat from the roasting oven, leaving the lean drippings behind. (I use a fat separator to do this, since I find skimming off fat from a hot pan to be quite a difficult endeavor.) Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it, scrapping up all the drippings. Bring this pan of deliciousness to a simmer.
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.
Set the chicken in a warm spot and leave to rest while you finish the bread salad. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.
Tip the bread salad into the salad bowl. It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add about two handfuls of greens (frisee is best, but arugula or a spring mix will be fine too), a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again. It should be savory, with a hint of brightness and tartness from the vinaigrette.
Cut the chicken into pieces. If you need a tutorial on carving a chicken, there's one here.
Spread the bread salad on serving platter and nestle the chicken in the salad.
If assembled correctly, there will be a mix of crunchy and softened bread chunks, lightly dressed greens, and golden, crispy, and juicy chicken pieces.
Step back and admire your work. Slap all rogue hands and drooling mouths with a spatula. Try to get the platter to the table and apportion the chicken and bread salad on plates in a civilized manner.
Chances are, you'll skip the plating and take a fork and eat the chicken and bread salad straight out of the serving platter. And silence, punctuated by slightly inappropriate moans of pleasure, will descend upon the table.
At the end of the meal, there might be clapping. Or tears of happiness. Or an interpretive dance of gratitude. Or more likely there will be someone -- like my husband -- trying to lick the platter.