We just can't roast enough chickens fast enough
December 3, 2013 11:04 AM   Subscribe

Judy Rodgers, whose deceptively simple and extraordinarily delicious roast chicken made San Francisco's Zuni Cafe famous, has died. She was 57 and had been suffering from cancer for more than a year.

From The Zuni Cafe Cookbook:
I told Billy and Vince that we really needed a brick oven, and within a few months there was a 12- by 8-foot hole in the middle of the main dining room, decorated with plenty of bright yellow caution tape.

That brick oven ushered in a litany of dishes—and, one fateful afternoon when I was feeling overworked, under the weather, and debating what to cook in the brick oven that night, I floated an idea with Billy and Vince.

"Why not just roast a chicken? A whole chicken, to order. People could share it. It would be delicious out of that oven and simple. I bet people would go for it." People did go for it. We never stop apologizing for the wait, but we just can't roast enough chickens, fast enough.
The chicken, prepared only with thyme, pepper and salt, and served with a bread salad, has been widely replicated. Here is Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen's take:
Google “zuni cafe roasted chicken” and you’ll see — quickly — that this is something of a religion for people; they are mad for it. ... It might sound a little fussier than your usual roasted chicken but I can tell you this: It is one-hundred-thousand-percent worth it. I was as proud as a newlywed presenting her first crown roast to a holiday table pulling that evenly-bronzed, shiny gorgeous bird out of the oven Friday night. I was waiting for the heavens to open up and angels to begin singing hallelujah as never before has a more beautiful chicken emerged from an enclosed heating compartment, but then remembered, once again, that I was Jewish and instead happily settled for this:

“It’s like butta, Deb. Like butta.”
If you'd like to roast something in her honor, you can always try your Christmas turkey "Judy bird"-style, a turkey recipe developed by the LA Times using Rodgers' salting technique.
posted by purpleclover (26 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
.
posted by janey47 at 11:07 AM on December 3, 2013


I used to be the cook at a place that The Portland Mercury crowned as having hands down the best fried chicken in Portland. Thing is, it was probably the simplest thing I ever had to make. And this was a simple dive bar, one man, no experience required kitchen. Take chicken pieces, toss in the breading powder (just some flour and a couple spices), throw into the deep fryer for 30-40 minutes.

Just saying, sometimes the simplest recipes are the best.
posted by mediocre at 11:11 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Zuni is amazing, the chicken merely its crowning glory.

.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:15 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


.
posted by jquinby at 11:18 AM on December 3, 2013


THe Zuni technique for making a chicken is my standard way these days. I wait for roasters to go on sale and then bang them out and have glorious chicken for as long as possible. I've modified the salting "rub" - salt, pepper, thyme, paprika - thyme, sage and rosemary stuffed down the breasts and drumsticks.

Heck, even my turkey gets a salting.
posted by drewbage1847 at 11:19 AM on December 3, 2013


Oh no! That is sad; and she was relatively young.

I find it odd to read the observation that Judy Rogers' roast chicken recipe is "a little fussier than your usual roast chicken" since in, my experience, it's the simplest recipe out there. There is no basting or trussing and there is only one turn of the bird. The only step that makes it a little more onerous than a typical roast chicken recipe is the pre-salting (which is the heart and soul of the entire approach). It means that you can't just decided to do it on a whim on your way home from work, but that's a small price for what is truly the best roast chicken recipe on record.

Nowadays, whenever I assess a new North American or generalist cookbook, one of the recipes that I'll turn to is their roast chicken. The closer it is to Judy Rogers' simple approach, the higher esteem that I have for the book. Roast chicken is just a fantastic barometer for assessing where a cook falls on the "simple vs gimmicky" spectrum.
posted by bl1nk at 11:35 AM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Damn.

.
posted by rtha at 12:05 PM on December 3, 2013


[Fixed typo, carry on.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:24 PM on December 3, 2013




It's hard to overstate how central Zuni is to San Francisco dining. It hasn't been trendy or hip in a long time. But it's reliable, comfortable, and just fancy enough to feel like a special night out. And the food is amazing, not just the famous chicken. What a shame.
posted by Nelson at 12:36 PM on December 3, 2013


Short Ribs Braised in Chimay Ale
posted by neroli at 12:42 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Herb-Brined Pork Prime Rib Roast
posted by neroli at 12:48 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


I used to be the cook at a place that The Portland Mercury crowned as having hands down the best fried chicken in Portland. Thing is, it was probably the simplest thing I ever had to make. And this was a simple dive bar, one man, no experience required kitchen. Take chicken pieces, toss in the breading powder (just some flour and a couple spices), throw into the deep fryer for 30-40 minutes.

Just saying, sometimes the simplest recipes are the best.



For the uninitiated the Portland Mercury lets you pay them to get your restaurant reviewed. 5 stars will cost you a little bit extra.
posted by Colonel Panic at 12:56 PM on December 3, 2013


Her book, the aforementioned Zuni Cafe Cookbook is one of the best cookbooks I own.

Sad stuff.

And look for the book.
posted by Keith Talent at 12:58 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sad news indeed. Loved her: her food, her restaurant, her book, her spirit.

.
posted by trip and a half at 1:01 PM on December 3, 2013


I made the "Judy bird" turkey for Thanksgiving last week, and I will tell you that it was the greatest turkey I have had at a Thanksgiving (not just blowing my own horn here, as I will be the first to admit that I'm not an amazing cook). Funny to see the connection come up again so soon, but sad it had to be in this context.
posted by Inkoate at 1:07 PM on December 3, 2013


That is the only way I roast chicken now. It is by far the best method.
posted by nolnacs at 1:14 PM on December 3, 2013


.
posted by mumimor at 1:31 PM on December 3, 2013


Ah man, so young! Her book is great and requires close reading. I figured out that dry brining is the way to go. Her stories of the Tresgrois family are fun for their insight. Her book is the best and one of the few I would say I use regularly.

.
posted by jadepearl at 1:47 PM on December 3, 2013


.
posted by Tacodog at 1:50 PM on December 3, 2013


One of my favorite cookbook writers ever. My copy of the Zuni Café Cookbook is a mess because it's used so often. Right now, I have half a roasted chicken in my fridge, waiting to be made into that great chicken salad with the wilted scallions. We cook her "mock porchetta" several times a year - it's a perfect recipe. Her savory onion tart (version with bacon and apples) is a house favorite, especially with an arugula salad.

57 is way too young. Damn.
posted by goofyfoot at 2:05 PM on December 3, 2013


It's the haystack french fries that always tempt me there.
posted by gingerbeer at 2:10 PM on December 3, 2013


I was there last week, having the chicken.

That thing that David Chang said about SF ("Fuckin' every restaurant in San Francisco is just serving figs on a plate. Do something with your food."), an insult which many chefs here proudly reclaimed as badge of pride, always made me think fondly of that chicken.
posted by danny the boy at 4:45 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Smitten Kitchen adaptation is my go-to for roast chicken.

.
posted by zix at 5:14 PM on December 3, 2013


A few of her recipes on Cookstr.

Asparagus, pancetta, and rice soup is a staple in my kitchen.

Sea bass with leeks, potatoes, and thyme is last meal good.
posted by AceRock at 8:32 PM on December 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


A late comment to note: we did the Judy Bird turkey for Christmas and it was excellent.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 2:03 PM on December 28, 2013


« Older Look up to the sky and say it   |   Bias for Action Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments