Perfect Roast Chicken – Zuni Style


Who doesn’t love a good roast chicken dinner ? I’ve been road testing roast chicken recipes for a while so I’m here to share what I believe is the best.

This recipe comes via Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. Whilst I haven’t had the privilege of eating there, reading their cookbook makes me feel like I have. The love and care describing how to make their signature dish actually goes for a couple of pages !   I’m going to describe it to you in a couple of paragraphs and I promise you it will still work.

The Zuni Cafe version actually serves the chicken with a bread salad – however that doesn’t make it gluten-free so I’ve substituted the bread for roasted sweet potato salad instead with equally great results.  This is my simplified GF version so if you want the original it is pretty easy to find by a google search.

If you prefer to serve as a normal roast with all the roast vegetable trimmings and chicken gravy go right ahead.  It will still be the best roast chicken you have had – without the stuffing.

I prefer to use small chooks and if cooking for crowd, will cook two birds rather than buying a larger size.

The biggest difference with this recipe is that you have to start it 24 hours ahead – but I’ve reduced it to about 8 hours recently and it was still good … but 24 hours is better.  The high oven temperature cooks the chicken quickly but the pre-salting maintains a moist juicy flesh and crispy skin – miraculously it doesn’t taste salty, just dials up the chicken flavour.  Splurge out on a quality free range organic bird for the best possible result.

Oh – and make sure you use the bones and left over carcass and make a fab chicken stock.


One x 1.3-1.5kg free range chicken
3 tsps sea salt
a few sprigs of fresh herbs (I like tarragon)

1 sweet potato
8 cloves of garlic, skin on
1 bunch of rocket
1 tblspn pine nuts
1 tblspn currants, soaked in warm water and 1 tsp red wine vinegar for 1 hour
Extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
3/4 cup verjuice or white wine


Starting 24 hours before:

1. Wash and dry the chicken really well with paper towel.  A wet bird will not absorb the salt correctly.

2. Sprinkle the salt all over the bird and around the outside of the cavity and a little inside.

3. Using your finger, gently prize the skin from the breast meat so that you can slide a sprig of herbs inside. Sprinkle with a little cracked pepper.


4. Place the chicken in a bowl, cover loosely and place in the fridge for 24 hours.

On the day:

5. Remove chicken from the fridge 30 mins before cooking.

6. Turn on oven and pre-heat to 230C.

7. Dry chicken well with paper towel.  Place an appropriate stove top / oven proof dish on hotplate at medium heat. Once the dish has warmed, place the chicken in with the breast side up and cook for about five minutes.  The reason for doing this is to stop the chicken skin from sticking to the dish when it goes into the oven.

7. Meanwhile, as the chicken is sizzling away, peel the sweet potato and cut into large chunks.

8. Rub the sweet potato lightly with a smear of olive oil and place into the oven dish around the chicken.  Sprinkle around the garlic cloves (still with skins on) and place the chicken into the oven.


9.  Cook for 20 mins.  Turn the chicken breast side down.

10. Cook for another 20mins.  Turn the chicken back over so that the breast is facing up.

11.  Cook for another 20mins.

12. Remove from the oven.  Total cooking time is 1 hour, however if the chicken is not nicely browned, cook a bit longer (5-10 more mins should do it).


13. Take the chicken from the dish (ensuring you pour any of the cooking juices accumulated in the cavity into the dish). Place the chicken on a plate covered loosely with foil.

14. Remove the sweet potato and garlic from the pan (remove the skins from the garlic) and place in a bowl and keep warm.

15. Remove any obvious chicken fat left in the oven dish with spoon and then put the dish back on the stove top on low heat and using 3/4 cup of Verjuice or white wine, deglaze the pan, scraping all the caramelised pan juices and stirring to make a simple jus type sauce.  Taste and add a tiny splash of red wine vinegar if necessary to give a little bit of zing.

16. Place rocket, pine nuts, currants, garlic cloves and sweet potato on plates. Drizzle with olive oil and a little red wine vinegar over the salad leaves. Top with chicken and pour over sauce.



Serves 2-4


About Soul Kitchen Blog

Welcome to Soul Kitchen Blog. Sure food ultimately is fuel for the body but made with love is so much more and truly nourishes the soul. As cliche as it sounds, life really is too short to eat bad food and drink bad wine. I have a passion for cooking and a love of good food. I am committed to my quest of searching for fabulous recipes that just so happen to be gluten free. In recent years I discovered that I have intolerance to gluten and whilst its changed my eating habits somewhat, I refuse to allow it to limit my choices to eat well or make those that I cook for feel that they are missing out on anything. My mandate is simple... Feed the body and nourish the soul. I look forward to sharing my journey with you ....
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4 Responses to Perfect Roast Chicken – Zuni Style

  1. LFFL says:

    Your roast chicken looks good.

  2. made this tonight… added my veggies (squash and onions) into the dish. the potatoes did come out a little under-cooked, next time I will either put them on the bottom or just on top of the chicken with the veggies on top. make sure to add plenty of garlic for flavor. I also really like balsamic so I added a good amount of that too. I will definitely be making this again!

  3. Ange says:

    OK – so I’ll admit, I’d looked at this recipe a year ago & thought “really, how much more amazing can roast chicken really be” ? Well people, I can now attest [having made it] that this simple preparation lifts the humble bird to another dimension of flavour & deliciousness.

    I never would have believed that the extra step of salting the chicken a day in advance could make such a marked difference … but it does. It appears to draw out excess moisture and dry the skin, so that when it’s roasted, it crisps & browns evenly – while the meat remains moist & succulent.

    I used rosemary under the skin & added some streaky bacon for extra flavour. It hardly needed any oil whatsoever; just a ‘light massage’ & the natural oils of the skin provided the rest.

    So in conclusion – the extra step is ABSOLUTELY WORTH IT. This is now the ONLY way I’ll be preparing roast chicken … and I urge you to join the Zuni [chicken] revolution !

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