- I've tried Zuni cafe recipe for roast chicken
- I realized that legs and breasts can't be cooked together (if you want perfection)
- I stopped listening to FDA about the "safe" temperature of chicken
I can't say that Zuni cafe chicken is amazing, but it has potential. Roasting in a skillet helps the skin crisp and leaves you with wonderful brown bits for the sauce, and high heat on a small chicken works surprisingly well. Salting at least a day in advance is a fabulous idea too. The chicken becomes more succulent, flavorful, and tender. If you are cooking a whole chicken, that is a great method, but you have no idea how much better it can be if you cook the legs and breasts separately.
The legs taste best when they are cooked to 200F before being removed off the heat (that's when all the connective tissue melts); the breasts taste best around 150F (taking residual heat into account, they need to be taken off the heat way before they reach 150F). Unfortunately, that's impossible to accomplish on a whole chicken. But if you break it up, you don't need to compromise with 160 breasts / 170 legs.
I am sure some of you are getting nervous even at the mention of 150F for chicken. Wait till I tell you to take it off the heat at 130F :) I used to take it off the heat at 140F, expecting the temperature to rise 10 degrees, but this weekend I put this theory to the test. I got the breasts out of the oven at 130F and left the thermometer in the center of the roast. During the next 15 minutes, the temperature went up by 26 degrees to 156F. My roast was 1 Lb 10 oz (the roast was 1 Lb 9 oz, plus an ounce of stuffing). Then my wonderful assistant Janet, agreed to perform the same experiment at home. Her roast was a bit smaller and not stuffed, weighing in at 1 Lb 5 oz. The temp went up by 21 degrees. So, never underestimate residual heat.
150F? Is that medium-rare chicken? No -- it's completely opaque and "normal" looking, just more tender and juicy than you are used to. Is it safe? I don't know what FDA would have to say about it, but here are salmonella facts that I was able to find. Salmonella dies if held at 131F for 1 hour, 140F for 30 minutes, 150F for 10 minutes, and 160 for 2 minutes. In other words, if you want officially safe chicken, cook it to 140F, and let it rest for 15 minutes. You'll get your 160F.
I do find that it tastes a lot better at 150F and I am willing to eat it, FDA be damned. First of all, bacteria don't go from super healthy to dead in a split second. If 150F for 10 minutes would kill them, 150F for even 5 minutes would weaken them and make the odds of them infecting you a lot lower. Also, keep in mind that duck breasts are routinely served at 130F. So is foie gras. That's still poultry and can have salmonella just like chicken.
What temperature you cook your chicken to is completely up to you. I just wanted to explain that taking breasts off the heat at 160F is an overkill safety-wise and a guarantee of dryness.
Instead of rewriting the recipe here again, I've updated my previous post with a few more details.