Tag Archives: roasted chicken

Chicken Showdown – Zuni vs. Bouchon

Zuni-Bouchon

I knew it would come to this. It was unavoidable.

In the course of planning a trip to San Francisco followed closely by a trip to Yountville, I immediately thought “chicken” — a perfectly logical connection.

Well, it is if you connect the dots: San Francisco is the home of Zuni Cafe and Yountville is the home of Bouchon.

Within the span of three days, I had the rare opportunity to sample arguably two of the world’s best roast chickens.

Zuni-Chicken-2

Who could pass that up? Certainly not me.

First, Zuni’s roast chicken. It takes an hour from order-to-table. Normally, waiting an hour for food in a restaurant would be insane, but Chef Judy Rodgers has been serving her roast chicken for more than two decades, and no one seems to mind the wait.

Partly because the rest of the Zuni menu is full delicious distractions. Like an heirloom tomato and cucumber salad surrounding a pile of creamy burrata or a plate of whisper-thin Serrano ham slices paired with garden-fresh black-eyed peas and paprika oil.

Bouchon-Roast-Chicken

Thomas Keller is fanatic about chicken, too. His Bouchon bird sports gorgeous mahogany skin and a chicken jus that would go over just as well if served in a glass — to drink.

But Zuni’s chicken comes with an outrageous bread salad studded with currants and pine nuts. The bread is buttery and crisp when it arrives at the table, but by the time we get to the last piece, it’s soft and chewy from soaking in savory chicken jus.

Zuni-Chicken-3

Bouchon has killer bread, too, but it comes before the meal.

Pain d’Epi (“ear of wheat”) baguettes are placed on the white butcher paper tabletop along with a saucer holding salted butter, white bean puree drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and two toasted baguette slices.

Bouchon-Bread

Zuni’s chicken serves two and costs $48. Bouchon’s chicken serves one and costs $26.

Both chickens have been brined, resulting in juicy, moist birds. Both birds are high-heat roasted with lots of herbs.

Bouchon’s chicken has crispy skin; Zuni’s does not.

But Zuni Cafe has a secret weapon — one that tries desperately to sway my opinion about who has the best roast chicken.

Zuni-Cafe-Wood-Oven

Smack dab in the center of Zuni Cafe sits a wood-fired, brick oven. I guess it’s not really a “secret.” You’d know it’s there even if you didn’t see it, although it’s impossible to miss. Smoke permeates the room, even wafting out onto the street.

So is it really fair to declare one bird over the other? Given the opportunity, I’d ecstatically sit down to another plate from either restaurant.

Both restaurants have cookbooks with pages that painfully, minutely, spell out the detail the making of the chickens. My own roast chicken recipe borrows the Bouchon technique of high heat.

Now that I’ve sampled Zuni’s smoky version, I’m contemplating a date with the smoker box on my grill. But it won’t be the same.

Sometimes the best way — perhaps the only way — to experience the real deal is to go straight to the source. The Zuni Cafe roasted chicken wins by a log.

Zuni-Chicken-1

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How to Roast Chicken

Roasted

The best roast chickens I’ve ever eaten have a couple of things in common.

a). The chicken was first brined in a salt solution, resulting in a juicy, flavorful bird, and

b.) The chicken was roasted at a high temperature, producing a very crispy skin

A basic salt brine consists of salt (1 cup) and water (1 gallon). From there, you can add whatever flavorings you fancy. I add a little sugar (I like to think it helps brown the skin) and other herbs and spices depending upon what else I’m serving with the chicken.

My favorite chicken brine is a citrus brine:

2 limes
1 lemon
1 orange
1 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
10 cilantro stems (with leaves), roughly chopped
half a head of garlic cloves, unpeeled and smashed
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed
1 gallon of water

Zest the citrus and place the zest in a stockpot. Cut the citrus in half and squeeze the juice into the pot. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the salt and sugar. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature and then chill the brine in the refrigerator. Do this a day or two ahead of when you plan to roast the chicken.

Raw

The technique for this recipe is built upon Thomas Keller’s roast chicken recipe in his cookbook Bouchon. He goes into elaborate detail (no surprise there) about the brining, trussing and eventual roasting of the chicken.

I’ve simplified the steps here, and having eaten the chicken at Bouchon in Las Vegas, I can say that this home cooked bird stacks up very well against the restaurant’s version.

The biggest difference? You will have to do your own dishes.

Citrus Brined Roasted Chicken

Serves 4 to 6

1 (3 to 3-1/2 pounds) whole chicken
1 citrus brine recipe (above)
Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon canola oil
2 tablespoons thyme leaves

Rinse the chicken under cold water and pat dry. Place the chicken in the chilled citrus brine, cover and place in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours.

Remove the chicken from the brine, rinse under cold water and pat dry. Tuck the wings underneath the bird (don’t worry too much if they don’t stay tucked – you tried). Tie the front legs loosely together with kitchen string. Lightly salt and heavily pepper the outside of the bird.

Heat the oven to 475º F., while the bird is shaking off the chill from the fridge. When the oven is really hot, about 20 minutes later, add the oil to a skillet large enough to fit the bird with room to spare, and place over high heat. Swirl around to distribute the oil while the skillet gets really hot, about 3 minutes.

Place the trussed bird, breast-side up, in the skillet (a hot skillet prevents the chicken from sticking to the pan) and place in the preheated oven. Roast for 40-45 minutes (the bird will get very brown, so tent loosely with a piece of foil if you think it’s getting too brown).

Remove from the oven and check the the temperature with a meat thermometer stuck in the thickest part of the thigh, making sure it doesn’t touch a bone. The temperature should be 155º – 160º F. when it is finished in the oven, so if it is below that, return the chicken to the oven. Check the temperature every 5 minutes. When the bird is 155º – 160º F., remove it from the oven. As it rests, it will continue to cook.

Add the thyme to the pan drippings and then with a spoon, baste the bird with the thyme-infused drippings for a minute. Remove the bird to a cutting board to rest for 15 minutes before carving.

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