The lazy man’s guide to a classic roast chicken recipe

Both the LA Times and the San Francisco Chronicle gave Judy Rodgers of the Zuni Cafe a warm send-off and reprinted her classic roast chicken recipe, which has won big awards and international acclaim. 

ZunichickenHere's the obituary/recipe, and here (below) is an easy version of the chicken recipe for lazy people that still comes out great. Rodgers' version includes a bread salad that to me raises the bar too high for most home cooks, leading them to perhaps not make the chicken recipe, which would be a shame. 

So! The lazy man's version:

1)     Instead of preparing a chicken as Rodgers recommends, two or three days ahead of time, with salt rubs, etc., go to Trader Joe's and get one of their brined organic chickens. Accept no supermarket substitute; believe me, it just won't be the same.

2)       Bring home, dry carefully, just as she says, and then put under the skin, five or six springs of thyme, and perhaps a little oregano and or marjoram. But thyme is a must. Leave out on the counter long enough for the chicken to reach room temperature — a few hours. (You don't have to worry about bacteria, because you're going to cook it at a high temperature, although not so high as to dry it out.)

3)        This is the tricky part. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Put a small cast iron pan on the stove, and heat that too over medium, until it's pretty hot. 

Wipe the chicken dry and place, breast-side up, in the pan. It should sizzle.

Place the pan in the center of the oven. Listen and watch for it to start sizzling and browning within 20 minutes. If it hasn't, increase temperature progressively until it does. If chicken begins to char, or fat is smoking aggressively, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After 30 minutes, turn the bird over and roast 10 to 20 minutes. Turn bird again to re-crisp breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes. Total roasting time will be 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Do it right and it won't stick to the pan, but it's counter-intuitive — dependent on a dry chicken and a hot (but not too hot) pan. What she doesn't mention is that it's really helpful to have a good meat thermometer, such as this Thermapen recommended by experts, to be able to assess the doneness of the bird. You want it to be 159 degrees everywhere — but no more. 

Never met the cook, but I learned about originality in cooking from this recipe of hers. 

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