Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Waffling Leftovers: Zuni Cafe Inspired Bread Salad

San Francisco has many classic restaurants considered "institutions", one of which, no doubt, is Zuni Cafe.  Zuni opened in 1979 (!), and has quite the history (the original kitchen literally was just a toaster oven, espresso machine, and grill in a back alley!).  The menu has changed a lot of the years, including many years as mostly a Mexican restaurant, but in 1987 when chef Judy Rodgers took over, things evolved, and she introduced a wood-fired brick oven.  The accolades rolled in, including multiple James Beard awards (Outstanding Chef, Outstanding Restaurant, Cookbook of the Year).

That brick oven led to one of Zuni's most famous dishes: roasted chicken with warm bread salad.  It sounds simple, but, I assure you, this is no simple chicken and no simple salad.  It remains a fixture on the menu, but one that takes a commitment - it serves two, and has a warning that it will take an hour to prepare.  It will set you back $58.  Yes, for chicken and a salad made of bread.

I've been to Zuni, and I've had that dish.  I also have friends who have painstakingly made it themselves, and can attest to how much work it.  The recipe is easily available online, just Google search for "Zuni bread salad", and you can learn more than you want to about it (protip: if you want to make it yourself, Smitten Kitchen has a streamlined version ...).
Bread Salad Transformation.
Where am I going with this story?  Well, I had lots of bread salad leftover one day, and, I decided to do what I do with many leftovers: waffle it.  If this concept is confusing, please back up, and go read my master post.

To answer the big question: Leftover Bread Salad, Will It Waffle? The answer is ... not really.  But it still works as a reheating technique.
The Original: Bread Salad with Currants and Pine Nuts.
So let me back up, to the original dish, the bread salad.

My version did not come from Zuni, but, rather, it was prepared by the chefs who cater my dinners at work.  They have made this, along with roast chicken, several times for us, and it is always amazing.

What is it?  Well, a salad with bread as the main component, yes.  It sorta looks like a bowl of croutons with arugula thrown on top.  Or perhaps like some too crunchy stuffing strangely topped with salad?

It is chunks of focaccia, toasted first with olive oil, then drizzled with a very tangy vinaigrette with champagne vinegar, zinfandel vinegar, and mustard.  Toasted pine nuts, plumped up currants, onions, and some bitter greens round out the recipe.  It is served warm.  I believe it normally has chicken drippings as well, but, this was a vegetarian friendly version.

And, that is it.  This is not just a salad with some flavorful croutons.  The bread is the key component, not the greens.  The arugula is just tossed on top at the end, it is the bread that makes up the body of the "salad".  And those chunks of bread ... swoon.  Seriously, the most flavorful crispy bits of bread ever.  The flavor infused in them is just insane.  They are chewy, crispy, and somewhere between a crouton and stuffing, if that makes any sense.

Although I don't generally care for pine nuts nor currants, they are essential.  The pine nuts provide a nutty nature and soft crunch that I can't think of suitable substitution for.  I appreciate the sweetness from the currants, although I kinda wonder if perhaps cherries could work?  Any bitter greens will do, we usually have arugula, currently Zuni uses frilly mustard greens.  Something bitter is key though, to offset the acid from the vinaigrette.

And that is the bread salad.  It is served warm, and something you need to consume pretty much immediately.

We always have a lot left over, as my co-workers haven't quite caught on to the fact that this isn't a bowl of croutons (but once they do try it, you can bet that they rave!).  I've tried several times to save it, and it kinda holds up for a day (the arugula get very wilted obviously), but, the bread quickly gets mushy, and warming it up in the oven only goes so far.  By the second day, there isn't much hope for it.
Into the Waffle Iron.
Rather than throw it out, I decided to give it one last valiant effort, and threw it into the waffle iron.

At this point, the bread was mushy yet also chewy, a bit stale tasting, and just not holding up at all.  I didn't expect much, so I just threw a pile into the waffle iron, set the dial to my default 350 degrees, laughed at myself, and walked away for a few minutes.
Midway Through Grilling.
I checked in on it to find basically what you'd expect: grilled, toasted bread with waffle iron marks on it.

It obviously wasn't holding together as a waffle, as I didn't provide any binding element.
The Result: A Jumble of Bread Salad.
After sufficient time, I wanted to remove it from the waffle iron, and realized how ridiculous this experiment was.  What did I expect to happen exactly?  That it would magically turn into a waffle?  I know better than this.

After some careful work with chopsticks (I needed something nonstick!) I was able to remove it, and dump it onto a plate.  It was just a pile of toasted flavorful bread cubes.  Tasty bread cubes for sure, and I liked how crispy they were, but, clearly not a waffle, and I don't think this was much different than just warming it up in the oven.

So, I still ate it, it was enjoyable, but not really worth repeating.
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