Zuni-style Roast Chicken & Brussel Sprout Salad

I’d be lying if I said it’s easy to please all five people in my family when it comes to dinner.  It’s not.  My youngest would eat nothing but pasta and cheese if I let her, which I sometimes do.  But, what I am finding is that if I offer my kids new foods to try alongside something I know that they enjoy, they’re more apt to try it.  And, the rule is: you don’t have to eat it but you do have to taste it.  It’s like Daniel Tiger says, “You’ve got to try new foods because they might taste good.” (This is where I am at right now! An English teacher, quoting Daniel Tiger.)  I’ve found that over time, foods they originally snubbed their noses at, become foods they actually enjoy.  One of our families go-to meals is Roast Chicken.  All the kids will eat it (though two of them dip it in ketchup. Hey, whatever works!), and my husband and I love it.  Truth be told, I was never a big fan of roast chicken, but then the fabulous Deb Perelman over at Smitten Kitchen posted a recipe which is a riff on Zuni Cafe’s roast chicken, and I was a convert.  This is everything that a roast chicken should be: crispy crunchy skin, perfectly cooked chicken. My husband and I have actually fought over this chicken. It’s just that good.  Deb serves hers alongside Zuni’s bread salad, which is amazing but not the healthiest side (I reserve it for date nights!).  I serve mine alongside lemon roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes, which everyone here will eat, and a warm Brussel sprout/baby kale salad, which everyone here will taste (because, well, that’s the rule!) and three of us will devour. Now that it seems fall has arrived in the Northeast, this meal will join our weekly rotation.  I’d offer you ideas for how to use the leftover roast chicken, but given how good this chicken is, you won’t have any leftovers.

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The key here is a small chicken which is well salted far in advance of cooking and then left uncovered in the fridge, and finally cooking it on a very high heat in a very hot pan.  I like the Poulet Rouge Heritage Whole Chicken Raised Without Antibiotics which is available from Fresh Direct.  This is a seriously small bird, which allows the skin to get super crisp but the chicken doesn’t get overcooked.  If you have three kids who eat a lot of chicken, you may need two small birds– one for them and one for the grown-ups.  I’ve tried it with larger birds, and it just doesn’t get as crisp without overcooking the bird. I’ve tried it without using our cast iron pan, and again, the skin just didn’t get as crisp.

Zuni-style Roast Chicken

What You’ll Need:

  • One or two small (no more than 3.5 lb) chickens
  • Kosher salt
  • Fresh thyme or rosemary or other fresh herb of your choice (optional)
  • 1-2 cast iron pans (10-12 inches works well)

What to do:

  1. 1-2 day ahead of time: take your chicken, rinse it, pat it dry using paper towels. Make sure you’ve dried it thoroughly.
  2. Liberally salt the bird all over with Kosher salt. Be sure to salt inside the carcass as well.
  3. Using your finger loosen but do not remove the skin from the breast meat, creating a pocket.  If using, tuck fresh herbs inside. Repeat this with the thighs. Twist and tuck the wings behind the shoulders.
  4. Allow your bird to rest, uncovered in the fridge for at least 24 hours (I’ve left it for less time, and that’s fine in a pinch)
  5. Day of: take the chicken out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Pat it dry again if need be.
  6. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450- 500 degrees (depending on the size of your bird and accuracy of your oven) with your pan(s) in it on the center rack.  You want the pans to get hot.
  7. Once your oven and pans are hot and your bird is ready, place the bird on the hot pan, breast side up. Roast for 30 mins. After 30 mins, flip it.  Roast for another 10-20 mins (depending on the size of the bird). And, finally, flip it one last time, roasting it for another 5-10 mins. Total cooking time should be between 45-60 mins.
  8. Allow it to rest before slicing.

Warm Brussel Sprout & Kale Salad

What You’ll Need:

  • One 12 ounce package of baby kale or one bunch of lacinato kale (stems removed, thinly sliced)
  • About a pound of brussel sprouts sliced in half
  • Toasted pine nuts (optional)
  • Grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 large lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Dijon mustard

What to do:

  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Slice Brussel sprouts in half, toss them with a generous amount of olive oil, Kosher salt and the zest of the lemon.  Spread them, cut side down, on a baking sheet.
  3. Place the sprouts in the over and cook until they’re nicely browned, about 15-20 minutes depending on their size.
  4. While the Brussel sprouts cook, make the vinaigrette. Combine about 1/3 cup of olive oil, juice of 1 lemon, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, along with the clove of garlic (through a garlic press or use a microplane) and mix well.
  5. Once the Brussel sprouts are done, toss them with the baby kale leaves and the vinaigrette. The sprouts’ heat with gently wilt the kale leaves.
  6. Toss with toasted pine nuts and Pecorino.
  7. Serve warm.


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