What do you order at San Francisco's Zuni Cafe besides the chicken? Most people know that the go-to order at Zuni is owner Judy Rodgers' famously salt-rubbed, crisp-skinned, mind-bendingly moist whole roast chicken with bread salad that takes an hour to prepare and serves two people. As Jonathan Gold once wrote in the Weekly, “There are few surer recipes for happiness in this world than a long afternoon with a good friend, a Zuni chicken, and a bottle of old Cornas.”
But what do you get when you're in town only long enough to do an interview, you don't have an extra 60 minutes to spare and the person you're with is dreaming of a couple of glasses of white wine, a plate of oysters and a pale hillock of shoestring potatoes?
I went for the lamb. Specifically, a Watson Ranch lamb sausage and a tiny, perfectly pink lamb chop on a chickpea ragout and a tangle of wild arugula with a lemony, thyme-scented, sort of spicy salmoriglio sauce. I took a bite. Suddenly, my plate was empty. Uh, Zuni Roast Chicken? I can't wait around forever. Meet my new love: Lamb Sausage with Spicy Salmoriglio Sauce.
Squid Ink Extra: The Salmoriglio Recipe
Editor's note: Reading about Margy's lunch made us so hungry and nostalgic for Zuni we went right to our kitchen bookshelves and pulled out our well-used copy of The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Our reward: The recipe for Salmoriglio:
SALMORIGANO, OR SALMORIGLIO
Rodgers writes: “A pungent Sicilian sauce that is sort of a salsa, sort of a marinade. (Its name betrays its origins as a salamoia, or brine.) This delicious slurry is good for soaking raw things, basting cooking things, or moistening cooked ones. Use it with chicken, beef, pork, fish or grilled or roasted vegetables — onions, summer squash, tomatoes, eggplant or peppers. It is delicious on grilled bread, whether you drizzle it on before or after grilling. I like eggs fried in it and ricotta baked in it.
Although salmorigano is traditionally made with fresh oregano, I like the long, persuasive flavor of dried oregano and violate the standard with this version. At home, I stir together the sauce base and age it at room temperature for at least a few days, but it always tastes best when I forget about it for a month or longer. Add the lemon juice and hot water no more than a minute before using the sauce.
4 small garlic cloves, peeled
About 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon dried oregano
About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper or dried chile flakes
To finish sauce:
About 2 tablespoons simmering water
1 lemon, halved
Thickly slice the garlic, then place in a mortar and pound it to a rough paste. Add a pinch of salt and pound until smooth, then add the oregano, oil and black pepper or dried chile, pounding lightly as you stir them in with the pestle. Cover and store at room temperature.
Just before using, add the simmering water, squeeze in the lemon juice, whisk and taste. The sauce should not be tart — the lemon should contribute perfume more than acidity, and the water should tame all sourness, to better reveal the fruit of the lemon and the scent of the other aromatics. Spoon the warm salsa over cooked meat, fish or vegetables.
Or, if using as a marinade, rub the raw meat, poultry, or fish with the salmorigano to encourage it to impregnate the flesh with its flavor. Leave to marinate for up to an hour. Roast or grill over medium heat. The water may make the meat stick to the grill or pan, so allow time for that water to evaporate before you try to turn whatever you are cooking.
Makes about 3/4 cup sauce.
Editor's PS: The recipe for the Zuni Roast Chicken With Bread Salad is also in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. We've made it many times and highly recommend the recipe and especially the cookbook. Signed and personalized copies can be ordered through the restaurant's website, www.zunicafe.com.