Brine, rub, spatchcock, beer can - there are a lot of ways to roast a chicken. Our favorite is the old standby of salting ahead and roasting very quickly at high heat. This method has perhaps been most widely popularized by Judy Rodgers and her excellent Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Among the methods we've tried, this salted, herbed chicken has the most succulent texture and best flavor.
Click through for photos of how to prep a roast chicken, Zuni-style.
1. Buy a small chicken: No more than 4 pounds. Anything bigger won't roast well at this high heat. A 3-4 pound chicken is plenty for two adults and leftovers. We strongly recommend organic, free-range chickens. Better for you and better for the bird.
2. Chicken prep: Take the chicken out of its packaging and reach into its body cavity to see if there are giblets. Most butchers and processors remove the organs - heart, liver, kidneys - and put them in a small bag in the cavity. It will probably look something like the picture above. You can discard these, or save them for your next batch of chicken stock. You can use them for pet food, too.
Pat the chicken dry, inside and out, with a paper towel, and put on a plate.
3. Salt, pepper, and herbs: Get your salt and seasonings ready. For each pound of chicken, put about 3/4 teaspoon of kosher or coarse salt in a bowl. We used about a tablespoon of coarse salt for a 4-pound chicken. Grind in some fresh pepper and mix.
Also set out a small handful of herbs. We like a mix of sage, rosemary and thyme. We used some basil in this chicken too.
4. Tuck in the herbs: There are loose areas of skin around the chicken's tail, and up on its shoulders. Slide your finger into these spots and insert a few herbs - four little herb packets in all.
5. Salt! Now take the peppery salt and rub it all over the chicken, putting a little more where the chicken is fattest. Pat some inside the cavity too. Cover loosely and refrigerate for 24-48 hours. During this time the salt is first drawing the moisture out of the chicken, then returning it to circulate. At least, that's what Rodgers says. We have a loose grasp of science sometimes - all we know is that it works spectacularly.
6. Now, to truly make this chicken Zuni-style you need a wood-burning oven, which we, alas, do not have. Your oven heated to 475°F will have to do.
About an hour and a half before dinner, turn on the oven to 475°F and put in a small pie pan to heat. Take the chicken out of the fridge and pat it dry again, wiping away any leaky juices.
When the oven is fully heated, place it breast-side up in the pie-pan. Roast for about 25 minutes, or until it is getting golden, then flip it over. This tricky bit of business is usually accomplished with a carving fork jammed into the cavity and a spatula to flip it. If the chicken was dry and the pan was hot it shouldn't stick too much. Roast for another 15 minutes on that side, then flip again to recrisp for about 10 minutes. When you flip it the second time put a meat thermometer in the meatiest part of the thigh and check the temperature. When it hits about 180°F it is done. Remove immediately and tent with foil. Let rest at least half an hour before serving.
We attacked this and forgot to take a picture of the very pretty bird on a bed of couscous and greens. Here is the carcass instead; we are planning soup with it at this very moment.