Crispy Chicken Legs with Zante Grape Panzanella
Recipe and photos by Christian Reynoso
One might think a chef at San Francisco’s Zuni Café would grow fatigued by the long-running marriage of flavors in the restaurant’s iconic roast chicken with bread salad. For me, it’s quite the opposite. Although I taste the dish almost daily for quality control (and snacking), it’s easy to find inspiration in the premise of that tried-and-true recipe. When I plug in different seasonal ingredients, a recipe like this one becomes an homage, of sorts, to the traditional Zuni dish.
Fresh grapes take the place of currants here, and the bread is a rich rosemary-laden focaccia with added garlic and whole-grain mustard. I also call for just chicken legs, and I roast everything together on a sheet pan, which cuts down on pan use and makes the dish easy to serve at the kitchen table. The end result is a rich and texturally diverse panzanella salad with bitter chicory as a nest for the crispy-skinned chicken. The salad is soft and chewy with crunchy bits and bursts of sweet grapes and spicy mustard.
While I call for Zante grapes, you can try other varieties such as flame, Concord, or even wine grapes like carignan and grenache. If you use a grape larger than Zante, just make sure you take them off the stem and make smaller clusters so they cook evenly.
4 chicken leg/thigh quarters (about 2½ pounds) bone-in, skin-on (or drumsticks or thighs alone if you prefer), seasoned with 3 teaspoons kosher salt up to two days in advance
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil like grapeseed or safflower
1 pound Acme Bakery herb slab or focaccia (or any light herbed bread), preferably day-old
1 small head of radicchio or other chicory greens
9 ounces Zante grapes (also called Champagne or Black Corinth)
1 small red onion, sliced thin along the grain
3 garlic cloves (almond size), sliced thin
2 rosemary sprigs (about 4 inches long each), finely chopped
½ cup neutral unoaked white wine (like pinot grigio)
1 cup chicken stock
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
Preheat oven to 425°. If you haven’t pre-seasoned your chicken, season the legs evenly with 3 teaspoons of kosher salt.
Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and once it’s hot add the cooking oil. When oil is hot, place the chicken legs skin-side down and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes. (Work in batches if pan is not large enough to hold all the chicken without crowding.)
While the chicken is searing, tear the bread into 1- to 2-inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Slice the radicchio in half from top to bottom, remove the core, tear the leaves into large bite-size pieces, and add to the bread bowl. Pluck the grapes into clusters of 5 to 10 grapes (loose individual grapes are okay, too) and add ⅔ of the grapes to the bowl. Toss to mix. Set aside.
When the chicken skin is crispy and golden brown, flip the legs to sear the flesh side for 1 minute. Once done, turn the heat on sauté pan down to low and place the legs skin-side up on a sheet pan. Set aside.
Add the onion, garlic, and rosemary to the sauté pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion and garlic are fragrant and softened a bit but not colored, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat to medium and add the white wine, chicken stock, and olive oil. Stir in the mustard, bring to a simmer, and cook for 2 minutes.
Turn off the heat and pour the stock mixture over the torn bread and radicchio. With tongs or your hands, toss to evenly coat the panzanella. Once coated well, arrange the panzanella on the sheet pan in between the chicken legs. Keep the bread mostly in a single layer, evenly spacing the bread and the chicken to ensure it all cooks uniformly.
Once everything is arranged, top the panzanella with the rest of the grapes and place in the middle of the oven. After 10 minutes, rotate the sheet pan and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes. The chicken and panzanella are done when the bread is golden brown with crunchy bits and soft, mustard-saturated pieces underneath.
Serve hot with extra whole-grain mustard on the side.
Chef and freelance recipe developer Christian Reynoso is a native of Sonoma Valley, where he spent his early years at his parents’ restaurant. He has studied culinary and hospitality practices, and is now a sous chef at San Francisco’s mainstay restaurant and temple to seasonal California cooking, Zuni Café. You might find him drinking pét-nat with fries or mezcal with tacos on his day off.