Simone Appetit: Who’s Zuning who? |

Simone Appetit: Who’s Zuning who?

The secret to Zuni's incredible roast chicken is high heat.
Courtesy Simone Grandmain |

The other day, my friend Rick Rucker came over, impeccably dressed as usual, and loosened his Armani tie. I guess you wear them if you run Hampton Inn and Suites Truckee-Tahoe, though, great breakfast not-withstanding, they don’t have room service.

He looked tan and in good spirits. “Remember,” he asked, taking off his (also) Armani jacket, “when it was low and slow?” Now we are getting somewhere. “But now, how about hot and fast?” Now we are really getting somewhere.

I wished I had used an attractive scrunchy in my hair as opposed to a leftover bread-bag rubber band. Before I could do the switch he pulled out a cookbook. And a chicken. Then the ultimate buzz kill. “You know? Our parents?” Yuck. Double-up on the ugly rubber bands.

Of course I was a case of immaculate conception, so Mr. Ricardo Rucker had some ‘splainin’ to do. He did. It turns out our kinfolk have been doing it (the chicken roasting) wrong all along, meaning slow, low heat.

I needed to try this new method though, seriously, I was very skeptical. How good could a roast chicken be without, like, a cellophane bag over its head? I’ll tell you: very, very good. Perfection in fact.

This recipe started with chef Judy Richards, who brought us years of sold-out daily menus at San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe and, subsequently, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook.

Chef Richards cut her culinary chops as a teen at the Troisgros Bother’s three-star restaurant in Roanne, France and then went on to master cooking in Tuscany, Umbria, Sicily, Greece and finally California. She did some time out to get a degree at Stanford.

I bet she made some killer Ramen dishes there. There are no Ramen dishes in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook Rucker introduced to me, but they can be almost as simple and they do make you re-think the way we use to cook our comforts.

Remember, this is all about the method, so you can change up the spices. We added a little garlic. If they added this chicken to the Hampton breakfast buffet his guest would never leave for the slopes.

The Best Roast Chicken Ever


one small chicken, about 3.5 pounds

4 sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about one inch long

1/ teaspoon pureed fresh garlic


1/4 teaspoon cracked pepper

water (I think we all still have a little of that)


Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken then rinse and thoroughly pat it dry inside and out.

Next, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making two pockets and two more on the outside sections of the thighs. Place your desired herbs and garlic into each of the four pockets. Preheat your oven to 475 degrees.

Wipe the chicken dry (again) and place it breast side up in a shallow roasting pan.

Place it in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start sizzling and browning, about 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature until it does because the skin needs to start to blister, but not burn.

If it does start to char drop your temperature by 25 degrees. After 30 minutes (total) remove the pan, flip the chicken over and return to oven for another 10 to 20 minutes. Finally (last flip) remove chicken from oven, turn it over to recrisp skin, return to oven and roast for another 5 to 10 minutes. Total roasting time should be about 45 minutes to one hour.

Simone Grandmain is an internationally published travel and food writer who currently calls Truckee-Tahoe home. She welcomes your recipes, kitchen “must-haves” and food news @

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