Next Up: Roast Chicken in a Salt Crust

Here’s something that’s well outside of what I normally do — and thank goodness because I sorely need a change of pace. Although thinking about it, this technique has a lot more in common with pastry than it does with, say, grilling. Technically speaking, it’s in the same spirit as Medieval pie bakery, which I’ll get into a little later. For now let’s get to the recipe. You’ll need:

1 large, 4-6 pound roasting chicken
1 medium onion
1 lemon
2-3 springs rosemary
2-3 sprigs parsley
2-3 springs thyme
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic

3 pounds (about 12 cups) flour
9 egg whites
2 1/2 – 3 cups water
2 pounds (3 1/4 cups) table salt

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Rinse and pat dry the chicken using paper towels, inside and out. Cut the onion in half, remove the skin, and insert into the cavity along with most of the herbs and garlic. Cut three thin slices out of the center of the lemon and reserve them, stuffing the rest of the lemon into the cavity. Tie the chicken’s legs together with butcher’s twine and tuck the wings under the back.

To make the dough, combine all the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle. Stir the ingredients together until they’re moistened, then either switch to the dough hook or remove the dough to a board for kneading. You want to knead it into a uniform dough that’s soft but isn’t sticky, and that rolls out well (adjust with extra flour or water as necessary).

To wrap the chicken, remove the dough to a floured countertop or large board, and roll it out into a square that’s roughly 20 inches on a side. Place the remaining herbs and then the lemon slices in the center of the dough sheet, then place the chicken — breast side down — on the top. Fold in the sides of the dough sheet, then the ends to enclose the bird. Pinch the ends of the dough together to form a seal.

Turn the wrapped chicken over and place it on a sheet pan. Insert the pan into the oven and bake for about 1 1/2 hours. At that point insert a probe thermometer through the crust and into the breast to check the temperature. It should read about 150. If not, return the chicken to the oven until it comes up to temperature.

When the chicken reaches 150 – 155, transfer it to a cool sheet pan (it will “carry over” another ten degrees while it sits). Cut around the edge of the crust — about two inches up from the bottom — and lift off the crust. Carefully with tongs, lift the chicken out of the crust and place it on a carving board. Discard the crust and any liquid it might contain, which will be extremely salty. Cover the bird with aluminum foil and allow it to rest for 15 minutes. Carve and serve.

And speaking of grilling, this recipe works great on a low grill (keep the wrapped bird on a roasting pan) or in a brick oven!

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6 Responses to Next Up: Roast Chicken in a Salt Crust

  1. Letitia says:

    I had the wood-fired oven going yesterday and I decided to use up some of the leftover heat by trying this. Yummy!

    However: I have teens which is to say that all plans have monkey wrenches in them. One teen rescheduled a music lesson, so I decided to wrap up the chicken before leaving for the lesson so I could pop it into the oven as soon as I got back. The dough sort of melted around the lemon slices because the salt drew out the juice. It was easy enough to press back together, but if I have a similar situation in the future, I will leave the prepared dough in an air-tight container until just before baking. The final step of wrapping the bird is very quick.

    In future, I will convert the salt dough recipe to ratios so I can scale it. Also, I think the dough ought to be a little stiff. I used nine egg whites and about 2 3/4 cups of water and the dough was gorgeous, but it tended to slump once on the chicken.

    • joepastry says:

      Good critique, Letitia! I think you’re very right that the dough needs to be a little firm so it doesn’t become slack. But yes indeed, it’s much better to wrap the bird just before it goes into the oven. Otherwise it will soak up any moisture it comes in contact with (which now that I think about it might have been part of the slackness problem). Thanks so much for getting back about this!

  2. Letitia says:

    It was, perhaps, more slack after sitting on the bird for an hour, but it was slumping immediately. It was pulling itself off of the ends of the chicken legs as soon as it was set upright.

    I have built two wood-fired ovens out of cob and learned about slumping the hard way: if the clay feels perfect for hand- molding, it is too soft to hold its own weight. At least I don’t have to mix this “clay” with my feet.

  3. Bronwyn says:

    Do you need to use egg whites? What do they add to the dough? What would happen if you just used water to bind the dough?

    • joepastry says:

      That’s a good question. Whites are mostly water with some proteins and trace minerals mixed in. I confess I’m not totally sure what their function is. Perhaps the fact that the proteins coagulate at a low temperature helps the “shell” to firm in the oven. But I’d be up for trying it to see! Thanks Bronwyn!

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