There are variations on this idea from all over the world, including wrapping the chicken in lotus leaves or even clay. The basic premise is the same; the chicken steams in its own juices, keeping the flavour in. Using a salt crust is a neat, easy way to cook a moist, flavoursome chicken in a camp oven as easily as it is in a regular oven. Just beware of the dough: it looks yummy and crisp, but it’s actually inedible with this level of salt. You will need kitchen string to truss the chicken.
600 g (4 cups) plain flour
420 g table salt
4 egg whites
2 tbsp butter, at room temperature
6 lemon thyme sprigs
1.4 kg chicken
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Combine flour and salt in a bowl and stir in egg whites. Add enough of 250 ml water to make a stiff dough, then cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 30 minutes.
Using your fingers, push the butter and lemon thyme under the skin of the chicken breasts. Squeeze the lemon over the skin and pop the lemon half inside the cavity.
Preheat oven to 200°C. Using kitchen string, tie the chicken legs together, then twist the wings so they lie underneath the chicken.
Roll the pastry out on a floured work surface to an oval 38 cm wide x 50 cm long x 1 cm thick. Place the chicken in the centre, breast-side up, and gently fold up the dough to encase the chicken. Seal the edges by pressing together well.
Lift chicken carefully and place on an oven tray, in a deep baking dish, or in a camp oven. Bake on a lower shelf of the oven for 90 minutes*. Remove from oven and rest for 20 minutes before breaking the crust and serving. The chicken will have drawn in salt from the crust, so there’s no need to season.
* If you are using a camp oven, the chicken will take about the same time, but you’ll need to be sure it gets some hot coals placed on top from time to time, and the pan doesn’t sit too close the flames.
As seen in Feast magazine, Issue 11, pg36.
Photography by Alan Benson.