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Is ATK's roast chicken *really* better than Zuni's?! My conclusion...

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Is ATK's roast chicken *really* better than Zuni's?! My conclusion...

Carb Lover | Aug 22, 2006 08:13 AM

Cheryl H really got my attention when she proclaimed that the America's Test Kitchen roast chicken "beat the Zuni chicken by a mile." Further elaboration and ATK recipe can be found here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

So I knew I had to make this chicken pronto and see how it compared to my #1 Zuni chicken. I bought my usual 4 lb. bird. Ok, I must admit that I didn't follow the ATK recipe exactly (those who know me should not be surprised). I really do not like wet brines, so I dry-brined the night before a la Zuni, although I didn't add any herbs under the skin.

Everything after this mostly stayed true to the recipe though. I learned to butterfly a chicken for the first time. Not hard. I massaged that compound butter between the skin and flesh, even used the good Plugra. Sliced my Russet potatoes and placed into a 9 x 13 aluminum pan (my beat up one). They were layered about 3 slices deep so not every one touched the bottom. I decided against lining the bottom w/ foil because I feared this would inhibit caramelization and all the good crusty parts would end up sticking to the foil.

I placed a flat rack directly on top of the roasting pan so that the bird was raised above the lip of the pan. I was a little worried that it would make a mess that raised, but it wasn't a problem at all. The recipe is very accurate in saying that the drippings are absorbed by the potatoes underneath so there's no smoking (like the Zuni bird) at all even though the temp. is 500F.

I was a little worried that the butter would cause the skin to burn at such high heat, and while it got dark quickly, browning seemed to be slow and steady. I rotated the pan at 20 min. and then after another 15 min., its leg easily wiggled so I took it out. While the bird rested, I kept the potatoes in the oven at 500F to continue crisping since they did look fairly blonde like other posters have described. After another 10-15 min., I carved the chicken and removed potatoes and dinner was served! I was intent on having some green so I had a chilled salad of green beans, red onion, prosciutto shreds, and shaved manchego w/ a sherry vinaigrette.

So here's the photo of its good side (the skin started riding up on the other side): http://i2.photobucket.com/albums/y45/...

The verdict? This chicken was quite good. The breast side was nicely bronzed and blistered; however, the underside, particularly the thigh region, was not so (a big disappointment). The flavor was very, very tasty. The compound butter injects it w/ rich flavor and the garlic and mustard stream through it in a savory, delicious way. Unfortunately, I also found the chicken to be too greasy for my liking. There was a pool of butter and juices that had collected at the valley between the breast and leg, and the potatoes were sopping w/ butter and chicken fat. While I usually have no objection to fat, this was overkill for me. I also could have let it roast for a few more min. like the recipe instructs (or tent while resting) since it was a little more pink at the bone than we usually like.

Cheryl H, I think this is a very good chicken and could maybe top Marcella's chicken w/ two lemons (although I need to make that again to confirm); however, Zuni still remains the champion chicken in the Carb Lover household. Husband said that ATK's was a distant second to Zuni's. I really like how the Zuni bird has no added fat and that all the chicken fat just melts away during high heat roasting. Allows me to taste the pure chicken and makes the skin ultra-crispy in a way that I've not experienced w/ any other recipe. The smoking and flipping is a little stressful, but well worth it IMO.

I will say that the potatoes were utterly enjoyable albeit sinful. While the bottom got nice and crispy, we liked how some parts were tender and creamy which made for textural and flavor contrast. I would have to choose the bread salad over the potatoes, but why choose when I can mix it up w/ all kinds of permutations?

Thanks for posting the recipe so that I could try this! I'm going to try the butterfly method again by attempting my first chicken under a brick...

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