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sunday dinner: zuni cafe roast chicken.

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I don’t think there’s anything in the world that screams Sunday dinner more than roast chicken.

It’s homey and hearty and salty and crispy and juicy and delicious. All in the same bite.

And if roast chicken is everything that is holy and good about Sunday dinner, then I worship at the altar of Judy Rodger’s Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken recipe. It’s just four ingredients — chicken, fresh herbs, sea salt, and black pepper — but OOOOOH BOY, is it good. And it’s also surprisingly easy to perfect if you’ve got the right tools. And by tools, I mean your hands and a cast iron frying pan.

You ready? OK, let’s do this.

Sunday Dinner Roast Chicken, adapted from Zuni Cafe

You will need:

One small chicken, 2¾ to 3½ pounds
Four sprigs fresh thyme, rosemary or sage
Sea salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

One thing to note before you get started: the size of the bird is key to the success of the recipe, meaning the smaller the better. So if you’re serving a crowd, i.e. more than 2 to 4 people, it’s better to cook multiple small birds vs. one larger bird. I’m just trying to set you up for success. Phew, OK, moving on.

One other thing to note: the Zuni Cafe would prefer that you season your chicken 1 to 3 days prior to cooking it. If you have the time to do this and the space to hang out with a chicken for a few days, by all means, season away. I, however, have a full-time job and live in a New York City apartment, so I have neither. I’ve found that seasoning the chicken a few hours before cooking has the same effect, so you don’t need to go too crazy to still achieve a delicious result.

When you’re ready to season your chicken, the first thing you need to do is get over your fear of handling raw chicken. You can do it, I promise. Wash your hands. Have a chat with your chicken. Introduce yourself, talk about your hopes and dreams. Then grab that sucker and get down to business.

First, you want to remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Believe me, I never thought the phrase ‘lump of fat’ would be part of this trusty little blog, but there it is.

Then, rinse the chicken with cold water and pat very dry with a paper towel (a wet chicken is not a happy chicken…or a crispy one).

Finally, get to know your chicken, shall we say, intimately. It’s OK, this is where the magic happens. Heh heh. Carefully slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making two little pockets, then use a fingertip to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Shove an herb sprig up into each of the 4 pockets. It’ll feel weird and you might not be able to look your chicken in the eye, but it will all work out in the end. He’ll forgive you.

Finally finally, season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity and on the backbone. Cover loosely and refrigerate. Read the new issue of InStyle. Get a mani. Catch up on Real Housewives.

When you’re ready to cook your chicken, preheat the oven to 475 degrees. (It’s getting hot in herre)

Then, take out your cast iron frying pan (if you don’t have one of these, you can also use a shallow flameproof roasting pan or a skillet with an all-metal handle). Pop the pan on the stove over medium heat to warm it up a bit. Take your chicken out and pat it dry again lightly before placing it in the pan breast side up. It’ll sizzle, don’t freak out.

Stick the pan into your preheated oven and watch for the chicken to start browning. It should take about 20 minutes for it to start looking golden and blistery. If it’s not browning, turn your oven up to 500 degrees. If it looks like it’s burning or the fat is smoking, turn your oven down to 450. It’s a crapshoot, you guys. That’s life.

After about 30 minutes, pull the pan out of the oven and turn the chicken over. If you’ve done everything right up to this point, it shouldn’t stick to the pan. If it sticks, don’t cry, you didn’t ruin anything. Put it back in the oven and roast for another 10 to 20 minutes (the bigger the chicken, the longer the cooking time), then take it out again, flip it back over, and stick it back in the oven to re-crisp the breast skin for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Total oven time will be about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

When the chicken is fully cooked, take it out of the oven, remove it from the pan, and set it on a plate to rest. The little guy is tired, he needs a nap (this ensures your chicken stays moist and juicy).

After about 10 to 15 minutes of resting, it’s time to carve your chicken. I am no expert on how to do this, but this guy is. Once it’s all carved up, put the pieces on a warm serving platter, bring it to the table with great fanfare, and dive on in. So good, so good, SO GOOD.

I usually serve my chicken with a veg and a starch, and my recent go-tos have been garlicky spinach and smashed potatoes. Yums all around.

Sunday dinner at its finest. Enjoy!

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