One of the best recipes for roast chicken out there has to be Judy Rodgers' recipe for Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken served on an equally delicious bread salad. No surprise, it is my number one method for cooking any kind of poultry, not just chicken. The succulent moistness that this method gives to the chicken, or indeed, any other poultry, is unmatched.
However, I do have meddling Indian genes, so I also had to make my own version of this Zuni-style chicken using my tandoori spice mix and my mother's incredible masala bread salad. It's a simple, spicy twist on the original, and it is absolutely stunning.
My family loves entertaining. It is a running joke that we have people over almost every other day, both planned and unplanned. One of the first things I learned about hosting parties is to keep the food simple, and nothing can be simpler than roast chicken — there is something about a gorgeously browned, succulent, plump bird with super crispy skin that makes everyone go "oooohhh!"
That makes this Tandoori Roast Chicken the perfect dish for impressing guests. The chicken is brined well in advance, so all you have to do before your party is get it into the oven and flip it twice, which barely takes any time at all. Meanwhile, the masala bread salad (my mother's recipe!) takes less than fifteen minutes to prep and cook. Together, the spiced tandoori chicken and salad make for an impressive main course with minimal effort.
Making your own tandoori masala spice mix like I do really elevates this dish and adds fabulous flavor. You can, however, use a store-bought mix. The only thing to watch out for is that these mixes sometimes have salt in them, so make sure you check the ingredients listed and adjust the seasoning accordingly if needed.
Curry leaves are an interesting Indian ingredient. A staple of South Indian cooking, these leaves grow on tall bushes, distinctive for their fern-like appearance. They impart a smoky, yet slightly citrusy fragrance, and are used to add a burst of flavor to many dishes. Fresh curry leaves are available in most Asian groceries, and you can also order them online from Amazon or other Asian grocery sites. Curry leaves also freeze very well, and you can use them straight from frozen with hardly any loss of flavor. If freezing, strip the leaves from the stalks, wrap in paper towel and freeze in a large, heavy duty ziplock bag. Use as directed in the recipe; they do not need to be thawed.
I like to go Italian style when it comes to serving this dish. I plate up fresh, herby, salad greens, then drizzle them with the spicy, tangy pan sauce. I then add the bread salad and arrange carved pieces of chicken over top. A final drizzle of pan sauce, serve, then sit back and bask in all the reflected glory of this dish.
The flavors in this dish are Indian, but with a Western twist. Moist, crisp chicken with the soft chunks of sweet, salty and fragrant bread salad, all served with a spicy chicken pan sauce? This makes for for one amazing dinner party dish.
Tandoori Roast Chicken With Masala Bread Salad
For the tandoori roast chicken:
1 (4 to 5 pound) free-range or organic chicken
3/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt per pound of chicken
4 to 5 teaspoons tandoori spice mix (1 teaspoon per pound of chicken)
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Chicken stock, as needed
For the masala bread salad:
4 to 5 cups bread cubes (from 1 loaf of day-old bread)
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
10 to 12 fresh curry leaves (See Recipe Note)
1 small onion, finely diced
3 small tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt to taste
Fresh salad leaves, to serve
Dry-brine the chicken 2 days ahead of when you plan to cook. Place the chicken in a shallow roasting dish and pat dry. Mix together the salt, tandoori spice mix and lemon zest. Rub the chicken all over with this mixture. Gently loosen the skin and rub a little mixture under the skin as well. Be generous with the plumper parts of the chicken, like the thighs and breast. Cover the chicken loosely with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator.
After 24 hours, baste the chicken with any liquid that has been released. Cover and place back in the fridge for an another 12 hours. Twelve hours before you plan to roast, baste the chicken again and place back into the fridge — but this time leave the chicken uncovered. Leaving the chicken uncovered will dry out the skin, giving you extra crispy roast chicken.
When ready to roast, take the chicken out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature on the counter. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 475°F. Place a heavy roasting pan in the oven to heat along with the oven.
Carefully remove the roasting pan from the oven and set it on top of the stove. Immediately, place the chicken inside, breast side up. The chicken should sizzle and spit on contact. Put the pan back into the oven and roast for 30 minutes, until you can see the skin browning beautifully.
Take the chicken out of the oven, carefully flip it over so that it's breast-side down, and put it back in the oven. Immediately, turn the oven temperature down to 400°F. Roast the chicken for another 30 minutes. Take it out and flip it again, back to breast-side up, and roast until the chicken juices run clear and the chicken registers 165°F in the meat of the thigh, another 10 to 20 minutes depending on the size of your chicken. If chicken is browning too much, loosely cover with aluminum foil.
Take the chicken out of the roasting pan, cover loosely with foil, and let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Skim off any fat from the juices in the pan, and deglaze the pan with a little chicken stock. Season with a little salt and pepper, if required, then add enough lemon juice until the flavors zing. Pour the pan sauce into a small bowl and keep aside.
While the chicken rests, make the masala bread salad. Place the bread cubes in a single layer on a roasting tray, and drizzle with olive oil. Toast in a 400°F oven for about 5 to 7 minutes, turning them over once, until lightly toasted and golden.
In a large pan, heat the oil for the bread salad over medium-high heat. Add the mustard seeds, peppercorns and curry leaves. Let them sizzle for 30 seconds, then add the onion. Cook the onion until just beginning to soften and turn golden around the edges, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, sugar and salt (to taste), and cook until the tomatoes begin to break down, another 5 minutes.
Take the pan off the heat and stir in the toasted bread cubes. Toss everything together well.
Arrange the masala bread salad in a large serving dish. Place the chicken on top. Reheat the pan sauce and pour over the chicken just before serving.
- Try to find curry leaves if you can — they add a distinctive smoky, citrusy flavor. Curry leaves can usually be found at Asian markets and online on Amazon. If you can't find them, skip this ingredient.
- If you are not making the bread salad, you can halve two lemons and place them in the roasting pan, cut side down for the last 15 minutes of roasting. This makes a lemony pan sauce.
- The total cooking time for the chicken will be based on how large it is. Mine was 5 lbs and took around 90 minutes, plus resting time.
- The bread salad, also known as bread upma, can be served on its own for breakfast.
(Image credits: Michelle Peters-Jones)