Garlic, thyme for a change

September 27, 1995|By Cathy Thomas | Cathy Thomas,ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

We all know at least one. A meat-and-potatoes person. You know the type, they cling to food judgments founded in early childhood. "Gimme a good steak and baked potato" is their theme song. They squawk for aew food theme. A comfort food that will fill their stomachs with joy and make their taste buds tango. One that will turn them into roast-chicken folks.

Succulent roast chicken, that is. With plenty of mellow roasted garlic, fresh herbs and delicious croutons made from rustic bread.

One whiff. One bite. That's all it will take.

Judy Rodgers, chef and co-owner of Zuni Cafe in San Francisco, has created a Roast Chicken with Bread Salad that is sheer perfection. The chicken is stuffed under the skin with fresh thyme and garlic.

Roasted to a golden brown, the chicken is accompanied by a luscious salad made with toasted cubes of rustic bread, arugula, currants (plumped in red-wine vinegar and water) and green onions -- lightly dressed with a vinaigrette made from pan juices, generous slivers of cooked garlic, olive oil and Champagne vinegar.

It is so popular, Ms. Rodgers says, she doesn't dare omit this signature dish from the daily menu.

"We've been serving it since 1987 and a few times I tried substituting roast duck or guinea hen. Customers were really upset. Every single night of the year, about one out of every four people order the chicken. It's a dish that crosses through all seasons; rain, fog or sun -- it works," she says.

At home, you can serve the chicken with a simple green salad or prepare a mouth-watering Rice with Fresh Fennel and Cheese. Fresh fennel gives the dish a subtle licorice taste and the cheeses (Havarti and Parmesan) give it a creamy texture.

For dessert, try some simple store-bought crepes filled with fresh strawberries and a simple, make-ahead fruit sauce.

Zuni Cafe's roast chicken with bread salad

Makes 4 servings

1 (2 1/2 -pound) chicken, giblets removed, washed and patted dry

salt and pepper to taste

4 sprigs fresh thyme

4 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed

SALAD:

1 teaspoon red-wine vinegar

1 tablespoon warm water

1 tablespoon currants

6 cups stale rustic-style bread, most of crust removed, cut into 1-inch cubes

4 1/2 teaspoons olive oil, divided use

2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard

4 tablespoons Champagne vinegar

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper to taste

3 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thin strips

4 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced (include some dark green stalks)

3 cups mixed young bitter greens, such as arugula or frisee

garnish: 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts, see cook's notes

Fifteen minutes before roasting chicken, heat oven to 425 degrees.

For best results, marinate chicken overnight in the refrigerator. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper in the cavity and on the outside skin. Run your fingers between the skin and flesh -- over the breasts and legs, making small pockets. Place a sprig of fresh thyme and a garlic clove in each pocket. Wrap chicken in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Combine red-wine vinegar and warm water; add currants and soak for 2 hours.

Place bread in a large bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons olive oil. Adjust oven rack about 8 inches below the broiler element. Heat broiler. Place bread on baking sheet or jelly-roll pan. Broil about 6 to 8 inches from broiler element, tossing 1 or 2 times, for about 2 minutes or until nicely toasted.

Place chicken, breast side up, in a shallow roasting pan. Roast at 425 degrees for 30 minutes. Turn chicken over and roast until the juices run clear when pricked in the thickest part of the thigh, about 20 more minutes. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Lower heat to 350 degrees.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk mustard, Champagne vinegar, 1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in 2 teaspoons olive oil. Add the bread and toss to coat. Set aside. Heat remaining 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil in a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and green onions; cook for 2 minutes. Drain currants and toss with bread mixture. Place bread mixture in a baking dish, such as a 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 5 minutes. Turn oven off and leave in oven for 10 minutes.

Carve chicken into 8 pieces. Toss salad with 2 tablespoons of chicken pan juices and the greens.

Divide salad among 4 plates. Top with 2 pieces of chicken, sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.

Cook's notes: To toast pine nuts, place in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in a 350-degree oven for about 3 minutes or until nicely browned. Watch pine nuts carefully because they burn easily.

Garlic-backed chicken with croutons

Makes 4 servings

4 slices sourdough bread (large slices, about 6-by-4-by- 1-inches), cut into 1-inch cubes

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus olive oil for rubbing on skin

6 sprigs of fresh thyme

1 (2 1/2 -pound) chicken, giblets removed, washed and patted dry

2 heads of garlic, broken into cloves, unpeeled

salt and pepper to taste

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

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