Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ode to Judy Rodgers...and her famous roast chicken recipe

Last month, the culinary world lost a great chef. A remarkable chef. A trail-blazing chef. Her name was Judy Rodgers And she was only 57. Way, way too young.

The late Judy Rodgers
(photo: Zuni Cafe)

But even in her short 57 years, she managed to accomplish an awful lot. Much more, in fact, than even she ever thought possible. In fact, she was never anything but humble about her fame.

I can surely rave about her background. (She attended Stanford. She trained under Michelin-starred chefs in France and Italy, as well as under the great Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. She eventually took over the kitchen at Zuni Cafe on a run-down street in San Francisco back in 1987. And she quickly turned it into one of the greatest restaurants of her generation.)

I can also brag about her many coveted awards. (Awards like "Best Chef in the U.S.," "Best Restaurant in America," and "Best Cookbook of the Year" -- all bestowed by the prestigious James Beard Foundation.)

But what I want to do most is share the singular famous recipe that she will be forever known and loved for: a simple roast chicken cooked in a wood-fired oven.

(photo: wineanddineusa.com)

This roast chicken has been on the menu at Zuni for decades (since 1987, to be exact), and they sell more than 350 each week! It's spectacularly delicious. It's iconic. And it's unquestionably legendary, just like Judy herself.

So here's the original recipe (with instructional video) below, folks! You owe it to yourself to give it a try. Judy would have loved to know you did.

Judy's secret tips:
#1 - Always use small organic, antibiotic-free chickens.
#2 - Cure the chicken for up to three days in the refrigerator.
#3 - Use high heat.
(photo: Kim Kulish)

Serves 4

One 2 3/4-pound organic, free-range chicken
4 thyme sprigs
4 small garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Bread Salad with Currants and Pine Nuts, for serving

1. Using your fingers, gently loosen the skin from the chicken breasts and thighs. Stuff the thyme and garlic under the skin and spread in an even layer. Sprinkle the salt all over the chicken and season with pepper. Cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

2. Preheat the oven to 500°. Preheat a large cast-iron skillet in the oven for 5 minutes. Put the chicken in the skillet, breast side up, and roast for 30 minutes. Turn the chicken breast side down and roast for about 15 minutes longer, or until the juices run clear when a thigh is pierced. Transfer the chicken to a board and let rest for 10 minutes; carve.

3. Skim the fat from the juices in the skillet. Arrange the bread salad with currants and pine nuts on a platter and top with the chicken. Pour the juices over the chicken and serve.


1 tablespoon dried currants
1 tablespoon warm water
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 pound stale Italian-style ciabatta bread, cut into large chunks
1 tablespoon pine nuts
4 scallions, thinly sliced crosswise
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 cups lightly packed small arugula leaves or baby red mustard greens

1. Preheat the oven to 450°. In a small bowl, soak the currants in the water and red wine vinegar until plumped, 10 minutes. Drain.

2. In another small bowl, combine the champagne vinegar with the 1/2 cup of olive oil and season the dressing with salt and pepper.

3. On a rimmed baking sheet, toss the bread with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Bake for about 5 minutes, until lightly toasted. Let cool, then tear the bread into bite-size pieces. In a bowl, toss the bread with three-quarters of the dressing and let stand for 30 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, in a pie plate, warm the pine nuts in the oven for 2 minutes. In a skillet, heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Add the scallions and garlic and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 2 minutes; transfer to a large bowl. Add the currants, bread, pine nuts and the remaining champagne vinaigrette and toss.

5. Spoon the bread salad into a shallow 1-quart baking dish. Cover loosely with foil and bake for about 15 minutes, until heated through. Uncover and bake for a few minutes longer to dry out the top and brown the bottom. Transfer the bread salad to a platter, toss with the greens and serve.

1 - The Chicken; 2 - The Roasting; 3 - The Bread; 4 - The Greens
(photo: Eater.com)

 Video on how to make Judy Rodger's famous roast chicken