I must admit I was in a lousy mood yesterday when I started to make my Zuni Roast Chicken and Bread Salad. The Giants had once again looked awful, this time against the Packers (somebody please get the Giants a new coach, please, I am begging you), and I am not one of those people who cooks for therapeutic reasons. Zuni Cafe chef-owner Judy Rodgers believes that multitasking is essential to successfully cooking her food, but I quickly found out that I, for one, cannot handle doing two things at once in the kitchen, especially if both require split-second timing.
So my first attempt at toasting the well-oiled bread in the broiler as Rodgers suggests ended in the burnt toast setting off the fire alarm in our apartment. Similarly, my attempt to heat through the pine nuts ended with me throwing out a handful of blackened pignolis so dark that Paul Prudhomme would have thrown them away. But I persevered and I found that my mood brightened as I began to work through the bread salad recipe. The Serious Eaters who told me that these recipes are long, with quite a few steps, but not all that hard, were mostly right. I can honestly say that for the first time ever, I started to get into the zen of cooking. I was cooking in the moment, and though I might be imagining some of this stuff, I even achieved the cook's high I have heard many people talk about.
I managed to sweat the scallions and garlic successfully, meaning I softened them in a sauté pan over low heat without putting any color on them. For many of you, I'm sure, this is not a big deal, but for me this was a first.
I cooked the chicken in the middle of the Jets' aborted fourth-quarter comeback, but I quickly realized that making this roast chicken recipe required my undivided attention. I took the chicken out of the fridge, where it had been sitting for 36 hours, and put it in my preheated brand-new ten-inch Calphalon sauté pan with an ovenproof metal handle (thanks for that tip once again goes to the Serious Eats community). Pan with chicken then went into the oven, where I listened for the sound, the sizzle Rodgers talks about. Rodgers obviously believes in cooking by sound and look and feel and taste, and that explains all the variable times she gives in the roast chicken recipe. It's actually really scary and unnerving to cook this way, but when I started to see and hear and taste the things she talked about, it was incredibly satisfying.
I turned the chicken in the pan twice as Rodgers suggests, and I have to tell you that when it came out of the oven after 55 minutes (Rodgers says cooking time will be 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the bird—mine was 3.18 pounds), it was the most gorgeous burnished brown color I have ever seen. In fact, it sent me hurdling back in time to when I first had this dish at Zuni.
As requested, I put the bread salad (sans greens, of course) into the turned-off oven after I took the chicken out. This was the only bit of successful multitasking I managed to achieve without incident. I successfully skimmed off much of the fat left in the pan, and I think I deglazed it with a little bit of warm water. Rodgers doesn't call it deglazing in her recipe, but I managed to make a credible, very chickeny sauce with the pan drippings, so I think that's what I did.
I tossed the bread, herb, and currant mixture with some arugula I bought at a farmers' market that morning. Then, on a wooden platter, I centered my stunning-looking bird on the bed of bread salad. It was the most beautiful platter of food I have ever seen.
And it tasted like heaven. The skin was crunchy and crisp and just salty enough. The meat was moist, even the white meat, and the bread salad added a bit of sweetness (thanks to the currants), the arugula contributed a little pepperiness, and the bread added a little more crunch (albeit with an olivey bent). I have to say it was a triumph in every way. My wife, perhaps the most polite and well-mannered person on the face of the earth, practically licked her plate clean. This chicken was so good that Brass, our 13-year-old beagle, became a puppy again in an overzealous, albeit unsuccessful, attempt, to get at the carcass, which had virtually no meat left on it.
I don't think I'm ready to pull a Julie Powell and make my way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but I am ready for more multipage, multistep recipes, as long as they don't require split-second multitasking.