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salt-crusted chicken

March 2, 2011

This past weekend, I was visiting the beloved carnivore.   It was such a lovely visit until that whole thing Friday night where my computer almost got a virus.  I say almost because something definitely tried to infect my computer, but I shut it down quickly enough to stop it.  Unfortunately, I quickly tried to save my huge paper that I’m working on this semester – you know, the one that stupid ol’ me hadn’t backed up.  Somehow, in this whole process, that file – and only that file – was completely deleted from my computer.

So I had to begin again.  And that was depressing.  Luckily I had the beloved carnivore to help me through it.  And doubly luckily, he had some Reee’s peanut butter cup ice cream in his freezer.  That really helped me through it.

I was determined to have some culinary success to make me feel better about my computer mishap – and also so that I could take a much-needed break from my efforts to rewrite the paper.  Luckily, this salt-crusted chicken delivered that success in spades.

It was a bit frustrating in spots, though, so I’ve tweaked the recipe.  And I’ll also be honest about the fact that you’ll be a lot less frustrated if you have either cooking twine to tie up the chicken or a beloved carnivore of your own to hold the chicken in place while you wrap it in the salty crust.

There’s a chicken in there.  I swear.

Salt-Crusted Chicken

Adapted slightly from Chocolate & Zucchini

  • One whole chicken – approximately 4 to 5 pounds
  • 4 large garlic cloves, crushed with a knife (but not fully peeled)
  • 1 small bunch of parsley or 1/2 bunch
  • fresh thyme and/or rosemary

For the crust

  • 1 1/3 cup coarse-flake salt (this uses most of the common, small containers of coarse sea salt)
  • 6 egg whites (you can mix a dash of salt with the leftover yolks and freeze them for another use)
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the surface
  • 2/3 to 1 cup cold water
  • 1 TBSP dried thyme

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Chop the parsley and the fresh rosemary or thyme and crush the garlic cloves with a knife.

Take the chicken out of its plastic wrapper and pull out the lovely little organs.  Reserve for another use (like gravy, or jambalaya, or whatever).

Set the chicken on a large cutting board or other easy-to-clean surface.  Face the neck (or, for the crass among us, “the opening”) toward you.  Carefully slide your hand underneath the opening in the skin and keep sliding it around until you release the skin over the breasts and thighs from the meat.  Working in batches, take the chopped fresh herbs and slip them under the skin, doing your best to spread them around evenly -if you’re unsuccessful in this, don’t worry, just warn your guests that they might not want to eat the skin.  Which is unhealthy anyway.

If you have cooking twine, truss the chicken.  Set the chicken aside.

Now, prepare your crust.   In a medium to large mixing bowl, mix the flour, salt, and dried thyme.  Add in the 6 egg whites and 2/3 cup of the water, reserving the remaining 1/3 cup of water for later.  Mix this all together with a “dough whisk” aka your hands – although I read over at thekitchn.com (in the comments) that someone’s pet peeve is recipes that tell you to use your hands.  Sorry, folks.

The dough should all come together relatively easily, although it will feel stiffer than most doughs because of the coarse salt.   If it cracks easily as you blend it, add in a little more of the remaining water.  If it looks too wet (as in there’s liquid that just won’t blend with the dry ingredients, add in more flour.  Keep the remaining water nearby in a measuring cup or bowl.

Dust a very large surface with flour.  If you’re using a pastry mat, this won’t be big enough, but you can supplement it by adding some of those thin plastic cutting board sheets and overlapping all of them.  If you do this, however, you’ll want to have someone else nearby who can hold the patchwork of plastic mats in place for you as you roll out the dough, so if you have massive counter space, just accept the mess and use that as your surface.

Place the dough in the center of the flourd work surface and roll it around a bit.  If it absorbs all the flour as it rolls around, reflour that part of the work surface.  Flour a rolling pin and roll the dough out until it is 20 inches or larger in diameter.   You can quickly test to see if it’s big enough by placing the prepared chicken in the middle of the dough – there should be plenty of dough that’s not covered by the chicken.  If you wrap your own Christmas presents, use that practice and skill to eyeball whether or not there’s enough “wrapping” for the chicken.

Now comes the wrapping part.  Have someone hold your pastry mat patchwork in place for you, if you’re using that method.  Place the chicken in the center of the rolled out dough, with the neck/opening facing you.  If you haven’t trussed the chicken, you’ll need to keep one hand holding the chicken together so it doesn’t flop all over the place (it helps to have a helper who can help you with this while you focus on wrapping).

Bring the top and the bottom of the dough up over the chicken.  Now fold the left side over the dough and fold the right side of the dough over that.  If there are cracks, it’s not a big deal.  You can dip your fingers in your water bowl and run them over the cracks and try to fix the cracks like an artist would fix clay.  Channel your inner Lionel Richie with this.  Y’know, the blind woman in the music video?  Work with me, here, people . . .

I wound up with excess folded-over dough in parts and holes on top, so I took some of the excess pieces, ripped them off, and put them over the holes.  This made it look ugly and patchy but I didn’t care and it was delicious.   If there are some holes and cracks, especially near the legs of the chicken, fret not.  It’s not a big deal.

See, ugly.  And no one cares.

Your dough will probably crack near the edges a bit, and this is ok, but if your dough is cracking too much all over the place and is too difficult to work with, just return it to the mixing bowl and add more water a tiny bit at a time.

Place your completed masterpiece on a cookie sheet (with sides) or in a roasting pan.  Put it in the preheated oven and bake for an hour and fifteen minutes (a little more time won’t hurt the chicken, so don’t worry if it’s in there a little too long).

Pull the chicken out of the oven.  The crust will be deep golden brown.  Use the handle of a knife or some other blunt object to crack the crust.   Unpeel the rest of the crust carefully – it’ll be hot and you may want to use an oven mitt.   Don’t worry about removing the bottom crust – it’s fine to leave the chicken partly wrapped while you cut it up.

See, the present’s not all unwrapped, but no one cares.

Once it’s mostly unpeeled on top, carve that sucker and serve it.   Maybe with some brown rice.  Yummm.

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