Salt crust chicken is a revelation if you’ve struggled with roasted white meat that never seems juicy or tender enough. And the technique makes a showstopping centerpiece on the dinner table, too.
Food critics often say that the measure of a great restaurant is its roast chicken. This technique of using a salt crust on the chicken is much more forgiving than regular oven-roasting, although this chicken doesn’t have a crispy skin. I believe that achieving moist white meat is even more important than the skin, and using a salt crust does that.–Francis Mallmann
Salt Crust Chicken
For the Salsa Lucía
- 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives minced
- 1 tablespoon capers rinsed, dried, and minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves minced
- 1 garlic clove minced
- 1 red bell pepper minced
- 1 green bell pepper minced
- 1 small red onion minced
- 1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
For the salt crust chicken
- 1 chicken about 3 1/2 pounds
- 5 fresh thyme sprigs
- 4 garlic cloves unpeeled
- 2 fresh bay leaves
- 9 pounds kosher salt (three 3-pound boxes)
- Salsa Lucía
Make the salsa
- Combine the olives, capers, thyme, garlic, bell peppers, onion, orange zest, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Whisk in the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. The salsa can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Make the salt crust chicken
- Heat an horno (similar to an outdoor bread oven) or home oven (with the rack positioned in the lower third of the oven) to approximately 500°F (260°C).
- Pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Put the thyme, garlic, and bay leaves in the cavity and truss with kitchen twine.
- Empty the salt into the sink (or a large basin or bucket if working outdoors). Pour 2 cups of water over the salt and, using your hands, toss to combine. Add more water as needed, a cup or two at a time, tossing until the mixture has the consistency of damp snow.
- Make a 1-inch-deep bed of salt in a roasting pan and tamp it down. Place the chicken in the center. Stick the probe of a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. Cover the chicken completely with the remaining salt, tamping it down to make a salt crust so that it is completely encased.
- Transfer the chicken to the oven and roast for 35 to 40 minutes; the internal temperature of the thigh should read 175°F (79°C). Spread newspapers on the counter next to the sink. Remove the pan from the oven, place on the newspaper, and let the chicken rest for 10 minutes. The internal temperature will rise to about 185°F (85°C).
- Crack the salt crust with a rolling pin or mallet, lift off the pieces, and discard them. With a pastry brush, brush the remaining salt away from the chicken. Carefully pull off the skin from the breasts and legs. Slice off the chicken breasts from the bone and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Slice the meat from the legs and thighs.
- Arrange the meat on a warm platter and spoon the salsa over the chicken.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I’ve made this several times, as it’s easy to put together and makes for a great presentation if you break the crust in front of your guests. The meat is moist and cooked to perfection, but doesn’t taste salty. My only problem is cosmetic, because the skin does not brown. TIP: When adding the water to the salt to make the crust, you want it to feel like wet sand.
Originally published August 10, 2009