Chinese salt baked chicken is known in the Philippines as pinaupong manok (literally, sitting chicken), so called because the chicken is cooked on a bed of salt.
I used to make this in the pressure cooker. I’d pour in enough rock salt to reach a depth of two inches, lay the bare naked chicken on the bed of salt and pressure cook the bird. An hour later, the chicken meat was fall-off-the-bones tender and so, so moist! The problem was that the portion of the chicken that touched the salt directly was too salty. Even after scraping off the salt, I’d still wince when the salty skin touched my mouth.
As it turned out, there are better ways to cook salt baked chicken.
- Instead of simply sitting the chicken on a salt bed, the bird is additionally covered with salt. The salt must be wet. So, either water or egg whites are added. The chicken is sealed inside the wet salt and cooked with no additional liquid. When the chicken is done, the hardened salt is cracked open with a mallet.
- The second method is to season the chicken, wrap it in non-stick paper, lay it on a bed of dried-out salt and cover the parcel entirely with more dried-out salt. This is usually done in a clay pot on the stovetop. The parcel is dug out of the salt after cooking, the paper is cut open and the chicken is served. It’s the Chinese method.
For my salt baked chicken, I followed the Chinese method. However, I seasoned the chicken a little differently. And, instead of just wrapping the chicken in paper, I used banana leaves AND paper. Here, let me show you.
First, I patted the chicken dry with paper towels.
Next, I mixed the seasoning.
I rubbed the seasoning all over the chicken, inside and out. I placed the seasoned chicken in a strainer set over a plate. I let the chicken marinate in the fridge for several hours (overnight would have been better).
I laid a large piece of non-stick paper on the counter and placed several pieces of wilted banana leaves on top.
The chicken was laid on the banana leaves then wrapped. To keep the wrapping in place, I tied it up with kitchen twine.
Like I said, a clay pot is traditional but I have none so I used a Dutch oven instead. I placed enough salt (previously dried in the oven) on the bottom to reach a depth of about two inches. The wrapped chicken went on top of the salt.
More salt was added to completely cover and seal the chicken.
The Dutch oven was covered and the chicken was baked in the oven. You can do this on the stovetop but the thought of the scorching that may occur at the bottom of the Dutch oven scared me.
An hour of baking and another half hour of sitting in the oven with the heat turned off, and the chicken was ready to be unwrapped. Using sturdy tongs, I dug out the chicken, pulled it out and transferred it to a chopping board.
Ooohhh, and there it is ready to be chopped into serving size pieces.
The recipe is pretty straightforward but there are a few things that I should point out:
- You have to give the chicken enough time to absorb the flavors of the marinade. Six hours minimum; overnight is ideal.
- Using banana leaves is optional. However, I like how they kept the chicken even more moist than it would have been without them. Plus the aroma was just fantastic.
- You can’t get stingy with the salt. Seriously. And you have to dry it out. Otherwise, the moisture in the salt will make the paper soggy and, in that state, it will absorb the salt and your chicken will come out more salty than you want it.
Yes, that's pinaupong manok for my Filipino readers. I hope you've read all the text above this recipe because, otherwise, very little of what comes next will make sense.
Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.
Rub the herb salt all over the chicken including the cavity.
Place the chicken on a rack or strainer and leave to marinate, uncovered (to get rid of surface moisture), in the fridge for at least six hours (overnight is better).
Preheat the oven to 300F.
Spread the salt on a baking tray. Bake at 300F 15 minutes. Cool.
Turn up the oven temperature to 375F.
Take two large squares of non-stick baking paper and place on the counter, one on top of the other (or replace one sheet of paper with wilted banana leaves).
Place the chicken on the paper (or banana leaves and paper) and wrap as you would a sandwich. Secure with kitchen twine.
Take about two cups of the baked salt and spread on the bottom of a Dutch oven.
Place the wrapped chicken on top of the salt.
Take the remaining salt and pour over the wrapped chicken to cover and seal completely.
Cover your Dutch oven and bake the chicken at 375F for an hour. Turn off the oven but leave the chicken inside the oven (no peeking) for another 30 minutes.
Carefully dig out the wrapped chicken from the salt (sturdy kitchen tongs are useful) and move to a chopping board.
Cut the wrappings and discard.
Chop the chicken into serving size pieces. Alternatively, serve whole and let everyone pull off the meat as they eat.