Roast Poussin (baby chicken) with Red Grapes, Rosemary and Pine nuts

There are dishes that stain your memories; that tag along with your thoughts like a nagging toddler. This is about one of them.

Based on some bogus science I would hazard a guess that for every 24 chicken dinners that prove beige and forgettable, there’s one that will sing.

I’m thinking about chicken a bit at the moment. There’s not so much fowl on the menu in the parrilla’s we’re frequenting in Buenos Aires. There’s plenty of steak, sure, dripping and rosy. There are stubby links of chorizo, platters of offal and a panoply of ways to serve dulce de leche (so far it’s been sampled in milkshakes, on pancakes, over flan, on shortbreads, in gelato and just on toast).  But sometimes you just want the plain comfort of a piece of chicken for supper.

The pinnacle of these birds which has haunted my memories emerged at Zuni Cafe, three years ago.  If you’re serious about chicken, then you need to at some point find your way to Judi Rogers’  dining room, in  San Francisco. It’s been like this since 1987 with the 12 foot by 8 foot brick oven in the centre of the dining room squeezing in up to 19 chickens at one time.

At Zuni Cafe you’ll find a very happy chicken. It’s been brined, then roasted , so the skin is lightly bronzed, but the flesh is still delicate and soft. It’s served with a salad that will take you straight through the Tenderloin (careful there…), past The Mission, the midwest  and Atlantic, all the way to Tuscany; to torn bread, pine nuts, bitter leaves and currants.

While Judy’s 24 hour brining of the birds gets lots of the credit for the dish’s beauty, it’s the accompaniments which are to me the real heroes. They’re the sweetness and nuttiness that the beige safety of a chicken breast call for.

So when I’m after an intimate supper for two, this is a combination that I find myself turning to. Except with one, small exception.

It’s the currants. Currants are essentially shrivelled seedless red grapes. They’re the ballast in Christmas mince. They thrive in a fruit cake. An eccles cake. They’ll even pass in granola. But what a chicken requires is moisture, not puckered dark pebbles of acute sweetness. And besides,  they’re just too small.

I’m looking for something a little plumper.  So instead, I turn to the mother ship of grapes. I’m talking about whole seedless red grapes form a trivet, with garlic and rosemary for the bird. When roasted their sweetness is pronounced, there’s some burnish on their backs, but they’re still as juicy as anything.

You could roast a whole chicken to share, but to me, there’s something delightfully intimate about two snuggling poussin in a roasting tray.  As long as you’re ok with eating such wee things.  With so much of the flesh so close to the bone, these baby chickens carry a more intense flavour. It’s just more…chickeny. And yes, there’s a little bit of faff, making sure you get all of the meat of those little bones, but if you can’t hack into a small bird and gnaw on something sitting across from someone who knows and loves you, then when can you?

Nb, written in remembrance of a lovely chicken supper for two consumed in London, before the weeks and weeks of  hacking and pulling at red meat across from tables of each other in South America (hola!).

Roast Poussin (baby chicken) with Red Grapes, Rosemary and Pine nuts

Serves 2, but could be easily doubled for a group. Nb, you could also substitute a 1.2 kg chicken.


2 x poussin (weighing around 480 -500 grams each, or a 1.2 kg chicken)
10 grams of butter
250 grams seedless red grapes
3 sticks of rosemary
1.5 tablespoons of pinenuts
3 tablespoons of rose wine
1 bulb of garlic, top lopped off
1/2 lemon
2 strips of streaky bacon or prosciutto
Salt and pepper to taste

To serve: white bean puree, polenta, or mash potato

Here’s how we roll

1) Preheat the oven to 200C/392 F.

2) In a baking dish, about the size of an A4 sheet of paper place the grapes, rosemary and garlic.

3) Place the poussins over the top, rub with butter and sprinkle with the pine nuts and salt and pour the wine into the base of the roasting dish.

4) Lay the prosciutto/bacon over the breasts of the birds to protect them.

5) Place in the oven and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the juices run clear when the flesh at the thigh joint is punctured.

6) Take the birds out to rest and return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes to continue cooking the garlic and grapes.

7) Serve the poussins with white bean puree or mash potato, with the garlic cloves, grapes and pine nuts. Spoon some of the chicken/wine/grape juices out of the bottom of the roasting dish for a sauce.


  1. I’ve never been to Zuni Cafe, but Judy’s cookbook is on my shelf and I turn to it often for kitchen wisdom. I think substituting grapes for the currants is a fantastic idea, and I will definitely be trying this recipe. Safe travels!

  2. How is BA? Ahh the memories…of the steak which was everywhere! 🙂 I haven’t been to Zuni but made Judy’s chicken and it was superb-loved the bread salad that came with it too!

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