Ok, I’m going to warn you ahead of time – this chicken baked in a salt crust is not one of the prettiest things you’ll ever cook. But what it lacks in beauty, it makes up for in taste, tenderness, and fun.
I first heard of this cooking method while I was standing in line to pick up fish through our CSF (that’s Community Supported Fishery, for those of you not “in the know.”) One of the guys in line behind us started talking about how he doesn’t have them filet the fish when he picks it up – instead, he takes it home whole, makes some ‘wet sand’ with salt, piles it on to cover the whole thing, and bakes it for 25 minutes for each inch of thickness.
I thought it sounded like a crazy kitchen experiment, so of course I had to try it.
Here’s our whole fish:
And here’s our whole fish covered in salt:
You’re probably noticing there’s lots of water pooling on the pan. That’s normal, because salt draws out water. (Science!) It’s ok. We baked it just like this. It was about 3 inches thick, so I baked it for just under 90 minutes.
When it came out of the oven, we tried to move it onto a platter, or plates. No can do. The whole thing was so incredibly tender, it just fell apart. We ended up just putting the pan in the middle of the table and pulling pieces of it off. It was some of the most delicious fish I’ve ever had.
So, since I don’t always have whole fish lying around, I decided to give the salt crust method a whirl with a chicken. Since I knew it would take an excessive amount of salt to cover a chicken in its original form, I decided to spatchcock it instead. It made more surface area for sure, but also made it a bit shorter in height, so I wasn’t piling salt up 8 inches high and baking for hours on end.
If you’re not familiar with how to spatchcock a chicken, it’s honestly so easy. You take out the giblets, then flip the chicken over, grab a pair of kitchen shears (I use these, recommended by NomNomPaleo and totally worth it!), and cut the backbone out. If you want some detailed step-by-step instructions for your first go at it, this NomNomPaleo post will tell you how!
Once you’ve gotten it spatchcocked, make sure you grab the wings and tuck them back underneath the breasts.
Then you’re going to make your wet sand. This is literally just salt and water. You may need to adjust your ratios – just add the water a bit at a time until you have the wet sand consistency! This was 6 cups of salt and 1 1/2 cups of water.
Then you just take that big bowl of salt and dump it out on top of the chicken. Pat it down tight so everything is covered – remember, you’re making a “crust.” Try to get it so that you can’t see anything except the shape of something resembling a chicken covered in salt. This is a super-fun activity for kids, too – just tell them to bury the chicken!
(See the water starting to pool on the sides? That happens quick, so try to work fast when building your “sand castle.”)
You’re going to bake that chicken for awhile. I know it seems like it should be super tough, but it won’t be. It’ll be nice and tender. The salt crust will crack a bit, and the water that pooled on the edges will brown up the salt and cook into a harder crust – that’s ok. When you touch the salt, you’ll find that it’s no longer like sand, and instead is hard as a rock.
Now here’s where the “not pretty but super fun” part comes in – you have to break through that salt! Grab a kitchen mallet, or a knife if you prefer to pry it open through a crack, and start pulling on that salt crust. Eventually, most of it will come off in one big chunk. Also, your chicken boob skin will probably stick to it. Sorry. I’m a huge fan of crispy chicken skin, but this just isn’t one of those recipes. The skin is what keeps the meat from getting super salty while it’s cooking – it acts as a barrier, which is exactly what you want.
If you’re doing this with kids, give them a mallet and have them smash open their salt “sand castle” that they built earlier. So much fun!
Here’s what mine looked like when I broke it open:
Yeah, so, like I said – not super pretty, and chicken boob skin stuck to the salt. BUT. But, this chicken baked in a salt crust is some of the most tender and juicy chicken you’ve ever had. For the salt that gets stuck in the cracks, just use a pastry brush to brush that away, or cut the chicken up into pieces and peel the skin off.
I haven’t experimented with this method with any other foods just yet, but I imagine you could do it with just about anything. If you try it, post in the comments how it turned out!
- 1 5 pound chicken
- 6 cups kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups water
Preheat the oven to 400° and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine the salt and water and stir until you have "wet sand." Set aside.
Using a sharp pair of kitchen shears, cut the backbone out of the chicken. (This is called "Spatchcocking" and allows the chicken to cook more evenly.)
Spread a small amount (1-2 handfuls) out on the parchment paper, and place the chicken on top, laying flat.
Pile the rest of the salt mixture on top. Pat it down like you're building a sandcastle, making sure it's completely coated, there are no holes, and no spots of skin peeking through. You're trying to achieve an even coating.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Remove from oven, and using a knife or mallet, break open the 'crust' the salt has formed over the chicken and discard. Use a pastry brush to brush off any loose salt.
Peel the skin off the chicken to reveal the juicy, tender, and perfectly cooked meat underneath. The skin will be very salty, but the meat underneath will not be.