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If you love to serve food that’s 5-star level beautiful but really hate to put in hours of work for one meal, then salt crusts could be the secret weapon you need in your arsenal. Ridiculously simple to make but massively impressive to look at, this is a cheat’s method to tender and moist fish, roast chicken, meat or even vegetables in a snap.
Salt has been used for centuries for its preservative properties since it wicks away moisture and makes it unsuitable for bacterial growth and it’s this principle that can be applied to salt crust cooking. It also has unique chemical abilities which season, tenderise and even cook food. A salt crust ensures that any moisture that evaporates from the food doesn’t escape the crust, keeping it moist. It also insulates the food and ensures that it cooks evenly. Since it's a poor conductor of heat, it automatically ensures that your food cooks ‘low and slow’, a process which optimises tenderising and also prevents any direct heat damage to the item inside.
Salt crusts are usually of two types. First is simply done by packing an amount of salt around the item to be cooked before baking to form a seal. The second involves mixing the salt with egg whites which then form a solid crust encasing the ingredient underneath. Both are effective in retaining the dish's moisture although the egg white crust is most mouldable which is ideal for larger items.
These can be used to encase all manner of ingredients but work best for fish which requires help staying moist during the cooking process. Because it requires so few ingredients, it’s the sort of ‘set it and forget it’ dish which can help make cooking for parties and events a breeze. Here we’re sharing our route to tender, salt-cooked roast chicken, but sub in your ingredients of choice and start experimenting!
1. Preheat an oven to 260°C.
2. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Put the thyme, garlic, and bay leaves in the cavity and truss/tie the legs together with twine.
3. Empty the salt into a large, deep pan and pour in 2 cups of water. Use your hands to combine until it reaches the consistency of damp sand. Add more water as needed.
4. Create a 1-inch-deep bed of salt in your roasting pan and pat it down. Place the chicken in the centre. Cover the chicken completely with the remaining salt making a salt crust so that it is completely encased.
5. Transfer the chicken to the oven and roast for 35 to 40 minutes
6. Remove the pan from the oven and let the chicken rest for 10 minutes.
7. Crack off the salt crust, brush off excess salt with a pastry brush and serve.