Smackhead, Revisited: You can't rush reverse osmosis

Yes, I know I said I was going to make this chicken on Friday night.  But Friday nights I’m usually too beat to deal with all the cooking and photographing and writing Claudia’s comment in the post postponing this shamed me into giving the chicken another day to salt, EVEN THOUGH the cookbook itself said “one to three days”, not “one day is completely unacceptable and offensive why would you even think such a thing.”

Thus, tonight found me eating The Zuni Cafe Cookbook’s roast chicken with some celery root-potato puree courtesy of Bittman (there’s a tenth anniversary edition, it’s red and pretty) and some quickly wilted spinach.


We named him Norman.

The Zuni roast chicken recipe is known for (1) being almost 5 pages long and (2) taking three days, which makes it sound a little daunting.  It’s really not, because most of the written recipe concerns the optional bread salad (which I didn’t make, but I gotta say, sounds kinda overly complicated for bread salad) and most of the time the chicken is just sitting in the fridge while you go about your normal, boring life.

For the three (or in our case, two) days the chicken spends in the fridge, it’s basically being koshered: the bird is salted and left to sit, and while it sits undergoes reverse osmosis: the salt draws liquid from the bird, which then is flavored by the salt and herbs you’ve jammed under the skin before being re-absorbed into the flesh, resulting in a moist chicken that’s flavored from the inside out.

So the lesson here is that if you’re a lazy person, buy a kosher chicken.

The Zuni chicken goes into a pan that’s been preheated on the stovetop before roasting in the oven at high temperature – 475 degrees on the convection setting.  This results in quick browning and a good-smelling kitchen.


Yeah, that totally looks like something I want to eat.

Once the chicken was in the oven, we dealt with the celery root.  I’d originally planned to make the bread salad that accompanies the Zuni chicken recipe, but through a combination of forgetting to buy decent bread and having two celery roots and a bajillion pounds of potatoes from the CSA sitting in my fridge emitting guilt beams, decided to go for the puree instead.

Celery root is a fugly, fugly vegetable, and emits a stronger celery smell than you thought possible in nature.  We’d been warned by another member of our CSA that it would be hard to peel, necessitating a meat cleaver or possibly backing over it with the car.  It is a bit much for the veggie peeler, but a good chef’s knife did the trick.


I had no idea MadTV was still on.  Who watches that show?

The celery root thus subdued, it went into a pot along with a couple of yukon golds. We should have given the celery root a head start before adding the potatoes, but it all worked out in the end. I mean, no one died or anything.

Some of the celery root pieces were much browner than the others.  I strategically moved them around in the pot so they wouldn’t be in the picture. I’m not proud.


Make up your own caption for this one.  It’s fun!

I decided to press the assorted boiled roots through a ricer, as I wasn’t sure how smoothly the celery root would mash up.  A little butter, cream, salt and pepper later, I had a fairly smooth mash that tasted like…mashed potato with a little celery thrown in.

Whoo hoo.


If I could hang this from the car rearview mirror as an air freshener without having to deal with the rotting chicken carcass, I totally would.

The chicken spent 30 minutes roasting breast-side up, flipped for another 15 to cook the dark meat through and then re-flipped to crisp up the skin on the breasts.  The photo pretty much speaks for itself: this was one gorgeous roast chicken.

Unfortunately, it then tried to kill Brian, who accidentally grabbed the handle of the 475-degree pan.  Of course, I saw it about to happen, and of course I just made a sucking-through-my-teeth noise instead of yelling “don’t grab that hot pan!” Because I am quick on the uptake like that.


When good greens go bad.

It seemed a shame to waste a hot skillet with a layer of chicken drippings in it, so we tossed the spinach in to wilt and pick up the chicken-y bits.  Well, I tossed the spinach around while Brian stalked back and forth across the kitchen waving his palm in the air. He claimed he would be okay if he didn’t “baby it and keep ice on it,” implying that I was a baby when I did the same thing to my palm, but I let that go.  I’m quite magnanimous.


Classic.

So, the chicken.  It was cooked perfectly, the meat was juicy and flavorful all the way through, and the skin was wonderfully crisp and salty.  It was a really, really good roast chicken.  The celery root-potato mash was good, although the celery root is not so much knocking my socks off.  The spinach was the most insane (read: really, really good) I think I’ve ever had.  Aside from the fact that it was good, local, organic tender spinach?  Salty chicken drippings.

The weather was rainy and dreary, and this was the ultimate rainy-day dinner.  I’m not convinced that the Zuni chicken is so much better than a kosher or brined chicken that it will become our one-and-only roast chicken, but it was damn good (and fantastic for skin fiends like myself).  Maybe it’s the bread salad that puts it over the top.  Maybe I’ll try that next time.

Maybe.

Final Score: Hot pan 1, Brian’s hand, 0.

0 thoughts on “Smackhead, Revisited: You can't rush reverse osmosis

  1. I have done the Zuni chicken with bread salad twice now. The first time I was really disappointed in the salad, but this second time was fantastic. I think the vinegar had gone round the bend the first time. So try it at least once as written, most of the recipe is just chatter, not actual work. Oh and it’s better if the bread is really stale, not just same day stale.

  2. Ooch. Sorry about Brian’s hand. Damn beautiful chicken that makes everyone excited! I was able to eat at the Zuni Cafe, but my wallet could only take the pasta, heh :) This looks like a great way to go at home, considering we don’t get Kosher chickens in these parts…

  3. I normally don’t comment, but I feel I must de-lurk to defend the poor unloved celery root. The trick to truly delicious potato-celery root mash is to brown the celery root in some butter before steaming it with the potato and mashing everything up with some half-and-half, salt, and pepper. It’s the brown, buttery bits that make ALL the difference, I tell you. Then again, I’d probably eat my sweater if it were sauteed in brown butter, so make of that what you will. :)

  4. Well, maybe I am selling something, but it isn’t for me so I don’t think that the rule applies here. Try Ina Garten’s roast chicken recipe. It’s fucking great, takes absolutely no time, and the vegetables that are usually an afterthought turn out very well.

    Which one(because I am sure she has 12 recipes)? Uh, the one that is really easy, and requires that you stuff the chicken with a lemon and a clove of garlic. Easy as fucking pie.

  5. I never got what the big deal was about the Zuni Chicken. I’ve ordered it several times and it’s always been bordering on dry and unimpressive (though I have to say the bread salad was tasty). After seeing yours though I’m inclined to give it a try.

  6. jennifer, i probably will one day, as i do love a good bread salad (especially one that’s tossed with chicken drippings).

    manggy, brining does the trick too, and can be accomplished in less time.

    laura, thanks for the tip! we have another celery root sitting in the fridge; i’d thought about trying a potato-celery-parsnip gratin, but if i get too lazy to do that i’ll do another mash using your method. and thanks for de-lurking – do it more often!

    IANAC, i implicitly trust the contessa. the one thing i did miss about this recipe were the additional veggies – we usually roast chicken on a bed of root veggies and onion.

    marc, i’d probably just get a kosher chicken and try her roasting method (not that the salting is so arduous or anything).

  7. Oooooh, yeah baby. That is some awesome looking chicken. And now? I totally want a whole chicken car freshner. And that spinach sounds stellar.

  8. I just came across this post and must say — the Bread Salad is INSANELY good. Like, among the best things I’ve ever eaten. What I made my parents for their 40th wedding anniversary. I have a version of the recipe from a friend, to be fair, that I’m sure bumps up the garlic and pinenuts and whatnot. But, just… YUM. You must try it!

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