When I was in Spain during my student days there was this recipe that I saw a friend’s mother do and I must be honest I was initially blown away by it, thinking ‘Wow! That’s different, I’ve never seen that before.’ More than a recipe it was really a technique and I have no idea if this technique is traditionally used in the UK or not, I have never seen it being used nor had I ever heard of it being used so when I was 22 it was a real novelty for me and I expect it may well still be a novelty for many people even today. What I am referring to is chicken cooked in rock salt. Those who have been in Spain for a few years may have seen fish cooked in rock salt, it is quite common.
However this technique is not exclusive to fish but can be used with pretty much any meat. I first saw it being done with chicken. Initially my thoughts were that the chicken or fish had to be really salty after being in contact with so much salt. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. As the salt is rock salt and bound with egg white, the meat never absorbs it. You may even find yourself salting the meat on the plate once served. The salt merely serves as a hand-made oven, made-to-measure. And it is quite ingenious and ever so simple. Forget about tinfoil or other ideas to keep your chicken moist and succulent, instead encase it in salt and slowly roast it. It is an infallible technique.
The meat falls of the bone and the legs fall away from the body with the slightest tug. Effectively what you are doing is creating a mould of salt, which hardens as it is roasted sealing off the chicken inside. This means all the juices stay inside and the chicken doesn’t dry out. It also enables you to concentrate different flavours and herbs inside as all the aromas stay inside the hard salt shell and impregnate the meat. Once the cooking time is over all you have to do is crack open the salt and pull out the chicken and serve. You can cook the chicken in salt either in a baking tray or in a casserole pot which ever is more comfortable.
This time I used a casserole pot, but I do recommend lining the pot or tray with tinfoil before. This is something I normally always do with the baking tray, but this time I didn’t do it with the pot and it did take me a while to clean it well and get all the salt out with hot water. If you line it with tinfoil, it all just pops out in one piece after cooking, a lot easier! I haven't got round to it yet but my intention is perhaps this year roast a turkey in rock salt and see the results. If I manage to do it I'll post the results!
Although I didn't do it with this recipe, there is so much more you can do to give the chicken an extra kick. You can stuff it with a sliced clementine or lemon and add bay leaves, rosemary sprigs and thyme, or parsley and garlic with a chopped onion or what ever combination tickles your fancy. You can also cover the chicken in bacon strips if you like that, to keep it extra moist. But the results are still great without it. If you stuff the chicken with traditional stuffing mix, you will need to adjust cooking times.
So to roast an average chicken (mine was 2,2kg which is good for 4 adults) you will need the following:
2kg rock salt
3 egg whites
4 crushed garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp Oregano
1 tbsp Rosemary
1 tbsp Smoked Paprika
Step 1: Prepare the salt – place all the salt into a big bowl. Add the oregano, rosemary and paprika to the salt along with the three egg white and stir it all in.
Step 2: Line the bottom of the casserole pot with about 1cm of salt.
Step 3: Stuff the chicken with the 4 crushed garlic cloves and the bay leaves
Step 4: Place the chicken in the pot and sprinkle some paprika, oregano, rosemary and black pepper over it.
Step 5: Cover the chicken with salt, patting it down so that it is totally encapsulated.
Step 6: Place it in a preheated oven at 140ºC for 2 hours 30 min. Let it stand for 10 minutes before cracking it open. Once you ahve cracked it open remove the chicken and let it stand for another 45 minutes. If you are doing a turkey I would let it stand for much longer, at least an hour or more (depending on size) so it reabsorbs all its jucies. And then serve. (Use a large serving spoon to help you crack open the salt) .
A juicy bird! Enjoy!
(Please forgive the quality of the photos, I had to use my mobile!)