Zany Zuni Bread Salad

There are certain recipes you catalogue permanently in your brain under the heading: “I AM GOING TO MAKE THIS SOMEDAY!” On my list you might find: black and white cookies, leg of lamb, cheese puffs (the fancy ones that Martha Stewart makes). Very high on my list was an ultra-specific dish that caught my fancy years earlier when I first purchased the Zuni Cafe cookbook: Roast Chicken & Bread Salad.

As you can see by the picture, a few nights ago I succeeded in finally crossing this dish of my list. (Cue Hall and Oats: “This dish, this dish is off my list.”) Was it worth it? Did it disappoint? Are you tired of these questions that force you to click “Continue”?

Welcome to the other side of “Continue!”

Now then: Zuni Cafe’s Roast Chicken and Bread Salad. Here’s the thing. When tackling this recipe, I heeded the advice of a certain food icon named Julia Child. Once on a show I caught of hers she was talking to Jacques Pepin and she said: “Anyone who doesn’t finish a recipe because they’re missing an ingredient or a step isn’t much of a cook at all.”

Her point is: if it’s a choice between not doing or finishing a recipe because you don’t have the right materials or resources vs. not cooking at all, you should just do the recipe, dawg. (Julia Child was fond of the words “dawg” and “homeslice.”) This applies here because the Zuni Cafe wants you to salt your chicken and stuff the skin with herbs 2 days before you start. That’s whack, yo!

No, no, no. I didn’t do that. What I did was I used the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe—oh sweet, sweet Contessa. Unfortunately, I don’t want to write too much about the chicken aspect of this dish because I’m currently working on Chapter 3 of my book: the chicken chapter. Would you want me to hurt sales of my book by sharing all my feelings about chicken here? Of course not! We want my book to be very very successful.

So let’s focus on the bread salad. What is bread salad? Is this a real thing or are these glorified croutons?

To be honest, having made it, I’m not entirely sure. The recipe didn’t seem to make a lot of sense in places. Like, for example, the beginning. You take a loaf of peasant bread (which I purchased at Whole Foods):


The recipe says: “Cut the bread into a couple of large chunks.”


Then: “Carve off all of the bottom crust and most of the top and side crust.”


Leaving us with:


From this, bread salad? That will feed two to four people? Where did I go wrong?

Into the broiler it goes, after brushing with olive oil:


You flip it once and let it crisp on both sides. It looks like this, mmm:


Beautiful color, no?

You tear it up into bits and put into a bowl. You should have 4 cups. Yeah right!

Then you prepare a vinaigrette: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 1/2 Tbs Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl.


Toss 1/4 cup of the vinagrette with the bread.

Soak 1 Tbs of dried currants with 1 tsp red wine vinegar and 1 Tbs warm water.

“While chicken is roasting, put the pine nuts in a baking dish and warm in the oven for a minute or two.”

Add them to the bowl of bread.

“Place a spoonful of olive oil in a small skillet, add [2 to 3 garlic cloves slivered] and [1/4 cup slivered scallions, including a little of the green part.]”


“Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold in. Dribble [2 Tbs of chicken stock or lightly salted water] over the salad and fold again. Taste a few pieces of bread–a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. if it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well. Since the basic character of bread salad depends on the bread you use, these adjustments can be essential.

“Pile the bread salad in a 1-quart baking dish and tent with foil; set the salad bowl inside. Place the salad in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time.” (With 10 minutes to spare, basically.)


This all gets very complicated here. Basically: take the chicken out of the oven when it’s done, lift on to a plate, slit between the thighs and breasts and tilt the bird over the roasting pan to drain the juices.

“Put the pan on medium-low heat, add juice that’s collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste–the juices will be extremely flavorful.”


“Tip the bread salad into the salad bowl. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add a handful of arugula, a drizzle of vinaigrette and fold well.”


Phew! That was exhausting to type, let alone do. The verdict?

Ok, I liked this. I liked how the arugula wilts and how all these flavors and textures come together. I wish the bread were consistently crunchy and less mushy. I liked the idea of using pan drippings to flavor the bread (that, to me, is the step that makes the most sense; that unites bread and chicken into a beautiful whole). Somehow, the process didn’t yield quite as wondrous a result, though, as simply making a gravy with some flour and chicken stock. In fact, my fondest roast chicken pan dripping memory is this one. That’s where I served the chicken with Amanda Hesser’s Arborio Rice Salad and I made the Barefoot Contessa’s gravy. It took less time, less ingredients and it was far more rewarding.

The Zuni Cafe Bread Salad is a novelty, the sort of thing that might top any person’s list of recipes to try sometime in their lives. Now that I’ve tried it I can mull it over, consider its merits, and feed a bird colony with all the bread I didn’t use. It’s like that song in Mary Poppins: “Though her words are simple and true, listen…listen…she’s calling to you. Eat the birds, with bread salad now… bread salad… bread salad… bread salad now.”

17 thoughts on “Zany Zuni Bread Salad”

  1. I love this recipe. (And TRY the salting the chicken thing. Really.) Having made both the Zuni version and the Contessa version in the past month, I have to say the Zuni is better — more tender, succulent, falling-off-the-bone wonderful. And the contessa’s was really good, so it was a hard one to beat.

    I adore the bread salad. I don’t get tired of it. I make extra bread and viniagrette now because I pick at it so much during prep.

    A tip — carve off most of the crust of the bread FIRST, before you cut it up. Shave off as little as you can. Then cut it into two chunks and broil it with the olive oil. Works way better.

    Also, if you look in that big ol’ cookbook again, you’ll see Judi has lots of ideas for using that extra bread. Try making croutons out of it. It’s quite good.

  2. Adam, I second trying to cook the chicken Judy’s way. Pre-salting is the way to go– it really will change the way you cook forever. I pre-season all my chicken and pork a day ahead (or several hours at room temperature, as a cheat) now, it’s so worth the time and investment.

  3. Oh, all of that poor, poor, crunchy and pully and delicious discarded bread. I was raised by a father who didn’t care how much meat you left uneaten on your plate, but if you didn’t finish your bread… sacrilege!

  4. Oooh, I also wanted to buy this cookbook for this recipe alone. I had the roast chicken at Zuni last year – you have to wait AN HOUR for it. No shortcuts. Was it worth it? I think so, but that’s because I had nothing else to do that day. I wrote about it here.

  5. Hmm… sounds like a fancier version of traditional recipes created to use up stale bread. Try fatoush or panzanella instead using stale pita or Italian country bread, respectively.

  6. My mom often made bread salad, and at first it sounded so odd to me, but then I quickly learned after one bite just how good it is! I love how the bread soaks up all those good juices to add even more flavor to every bite. She simply made it with vinaigrette, bread bites, tomato, basil, and marinated olives. So good!

  7. Ok, I feel seriously compelled to post. I have made the Zuni chicken and bread salad about 7 times now, and it is one of the best things I have ever made. It is definitely a restaurant quality meal, that you can make at home if you follow the directions. I am usually the Julia Child type cook — make it work, even if you don’t have all the ingredients or don’t want to follow directions. BUT, this recipe is all about METHOD. Pre-salting and herbing the bird is necessary, as it perfectly seasons all of the meat. Drying the bird obsessively leads to the crispest skin on a roast chicken that you can get. Getting a large enough loaf of bread, and only trimming of the barest slices of crust will give you enough bread salad next time. Tearing the bread into different sized pieces will give up a variety of textures and vinegrette saturation in the bread salad. I feel strongly about this recipe, and I would strongly encourage you to make it again, prefereably on a weekend when you have the time, and follow the extensive directions. Her method really does make sense. You will be rewarded with one of the best homecooked meals you’ve ever made.

  8. I can almost taste your effort all the way down in Texas. I’m thinking practice might make perfect on this one. Now I’m dying to try it…but I’ll save it for a Saturday when I have plenty of time.

    Guess you didn’t pair it with a souffle for dessert?!?!!?

  9. So glad I found your site! Having lived across the street from Zuni for a few years it was impossible for me not to want to order the Chicken for 2 every single time I walked by. That led to getting the recipe and trying it a few times to get it the way I remembered it (ok, it took 4 attempts but who’s counting?)

    I think I know what I’m making for dinner tonight!

  10. bread salad…croutons…bread pudding. i love bread in all incarnations, but it makes me so sad to cut up a good loaf for purposes other than to eat fresh, with some nice olive oil. your dish looks amazing, though.

  11. the zuni chicken and bread salad recipe is one of those dishes i whip out on extravagant feast-like occasions. it’s not that difficult, actually, but it seems so sumptuous. i definitely second the idea of using rogers’ recipe just to try it! (especially if you’re writing a chicken chapter… if it sucks, you can say you debunked the zuni chicken… but after marcella hazan’s two lemon chicken, and the barefoot comtessa’s chicken, i gots to say zuni is better).

    however, the bread salad is what really makes this. I make a huge huge batch, doubling everything because we always run out quickly. put in a bit of extra droppings and broth, scallions, nuts and currants and stick it back in the oven to crisp up again if it gets just the teensiest bit too soggy. it’s ok if the greens aer wilted, you can add more too.

    this has become one of those signature dishes for me. also check out chowhound’s home cooking board for a lot posts with tips and various experiments around the zuni chicken. carblover has done some beautiful reporting.

    i’m convinced that something didn’t go properly in the construction of this dish, because overwhelmingly, in our experience with lots of testers, this is one of the few dishes that actually lives up to its hype.

  12. I am with thejulia and domokun. I have made this many times (am making as I type) and follow Judy’s directions to the “t” with one exception. After taking only the outermost crust off the bread I cut it into 4ths or even 6ths to broil with the olive oil because then when I tear it into the uneven pieces there is more crispy outer layer which plays beautifully in the mouth.


  13. I ate at Zuni Cafe last week and finally had this dish. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in my life! But I don’t think you can recreate it without a wood burning oven. The wood smoke permeates everything. I’m not sure what the salad greens were–but it wasn’t arugula, and there wasn’t much of them. It was something very mustardy/horseradish tasting. And they weren’t very wilted either.

    I actually ate it for lunch and dinner on the same day! I was out for a conference with some colleagues. Went there for lunch with a friend. Then 3 colleagues were going for dinner. One of them needed someone to share the dish with because the other two wouldn’t have meat that day (it was a Friday during lent). Being the lapsed catholic that I am, I volunteered. It was worth going to hell for!

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