Instead of using a whole bird (that has to be brined overnight), I decided to use chicken thighs, the pinch hitter of protein. The thighs are full of super-moist and flavorful dark meat, and don't come with the stigma of the often dry, overcooked breast. I had recently bookmarked a recipe for pan-roasted chicken thighs from Bon Appétit, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to use it. Boy, am I so glad I did; it was such a winner! The meat was juicy, and the crispy skin was like a perfect crème brûlée— as if it might shatter with the gentle tap of a spoon.
I've tasted the Zuni Cookbook bread salad, and I've sampled a few restaurant versions, too. Guess what? The restaurant versions always win. Want to know why? They add butter! And chicken drippings! And more butter! All perfectly fine additions if you ask me. So I went ahead and created the bread salad that I want to eat, not a watered-down rabbit food version. It's not like I'm going to eat bread salad everyday (although, I would, if I could, eat bread salad everyday.)
If you ask me, this is a sublime dish not only for dinner but for everyday entertaining, especially since chicken thighs and bread are so economical. You really can feed a lot for a little. Unless you go and eat all of the bread salad before anyone else gets a taste...not that I know from experience!
Crispy Chicken Thighs & Warm Bread Salad
Chicken recipe adapted from Bon Appétit
For the chicken:
6 whole (bone-in, skin-on) chicken thighs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
For the bread salad:
1 (16-ounce) loaf day-old sourdough bread, torn into bite-sized pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup red wine vinegar, plus additional to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
Reserved chicken drippings
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 cup packed arugula
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
For the chicken, preheat oven to 475°F. Pat the chicken completely dry and season generously with salt and pepper.
In a large cast-iron or heavy skillet, heat the oil over high heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken to the skillet, skin side down, and cook for 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-high and continue cooking the chicken until the fat is rendered and the skin is crisp and golden brown, approximately 12 minutes.
Move the skillet to the oven and cook the chicken, still skin side down, for 13 minutes. Flip the chicken and continue cooking for an additional 5 minutes, until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the oven to a separate bowl and allow to rest for at least 5 minutes, reserving any leftover juices to add to the bread salad. Leave the oven on at 475°F.
While the chicken is resting, begin preparing the bread salad. In a large bowl, toss the bread pieces with melted butter until evenly coated. Spread the bread onto a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, about 8 minutes. (Bread can also be toasted ahead of time and re-warmed for 5 minutes in a warm oven just before serving.)
In the same large bowl used for the bread, whisk the red wine vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Return the warm, toasted bread to the bowl and toss with the vinaigrette until completely combined.
Set the skillet used to roast the chicken (with the pan drippings and tasty chicken fat!) over low heat. Stir in a few more tablespoons of red wine vinegar, if desired, making sure to scrape any golden bits from the bottom of the pan. Transfer the warm drippings to a pourable container.
Add a few tablespoons of warm pan drippings, the pine nuts, and arugula to the bowl with the bread pieces, and gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, add more pan drippings if desired, and adjust any flavorings to taste. (I use all of the pan drippings because I like my bread salad chewy and rich, and I add a bit more vinegar as well, because I love LOTS of tang.)
Arrange the bread salad on a large serving platter. Nestle the chicken thighs, either left whole or shredded, on top and serve immediately.
Related: How to Roast a Chicken, Zuni-Style
(Images: Nealey Dozier)