Hakka salt baked chicken
Coming from the traditional style of cooking developed by the Hakka people of the South China hill country, this is a method of thoroughly cooking meat without making hard and fully retaining its juiciness. Probably the first thing your family and guests will comment on when you serve them Hakka salt baked chicken for the first time is how incredibly moist and succulent the meat is. This is not a quick and easy dish but it is absolutely worth the effort to experience this wonderful juicy chicken. But the secret ingredient in Hakka salt baked chicken has to be the (in the west) little know ground sand ginger ingredient which is used both in the rub and the sauce. If you have not come across this before I earnestly entreat you to source it, either in your local Asian store or online (see Tips below). This is something you will use again and again in many ways.
- 1 chicken, about 4½lbs / 2kg
- 6lbs coarse salt / 2.72kg
- 1 teaspoon of dry-fried salt and pepper (see Method below)
- ½ teaspoon of five-spice powder
- ½ teaspoon of dried, ground sand ginger (see Tips below)
- 3 ounces / 85g thinly-sliced fresh ginger, unpeeled
- 3 spring onions (scallions), trimmed
- 1 large dried lotus leaf, soaked in hot water until pliable, optional
- 3 ounces / 85g lard
- 1 teaspoon dry-fried salt and pepper
- ½ teaspoon of dried, ground sand ginger
First, pour all the salt into a roasting tray and put it in the oven on its highest setting. The salt should be really hot before you use it.
Meanwhile, prepare the chicken.
Wash and rinse the chicken thoroughly inside and out under a cold tap and pat dry with kitchen paper.
Cut two-inch / 5cm long slits under each wing and tuck the outer bits of each wing into the body, so that the thicker parts of the wing lie flat on the body and protect it from burning.
Then place the chicken breast side down on a work surface and press down, gently but firmly, to flatten the breast and make the chicken as compact as possible.
For the dry fried salt and pepper, coarsely grind 2 tablespoons of black peppercorns and put it in a dry wok. Add about 2 tablespoons of coarse sea salt. Mix them together over a medium heat, continually tossing them until the pepper starts to smoke and salt is grey. Pour into a bowl and let it cool. You only need a teaspoon’s worth for this recipe, so the rest can be stored in a jar for another time.
Now, in a bowl, mix the 1 teaspoon of dry-fried salt and pepper, the five-spice powder and the ground sand ginger. When well mixed, sprinkle half of this into the inside of the chicken carcass and thoroughly rub it around. If you are using the chicken giblets, now is the moment to stuff them inside.
Close up the chicken by tying the legs together tightly with kitchen string.
Rub the rest of the spice mixture all over the outside of the chicken.
Hakka salt based chicken is all about keeping the juiciness in and the salt out.
If you are using the optional lotus leaf, dry it and wrap it round the chicken.
Cut a 30-inch / 76cm length of baking parchment and spray it with the oil. Also cut two lengths of silver foil to the same length as the parchment.
Put the chicken breast side down on the oiled parchment. Turn the chicken over and wrap the parchment tightly around it.
Now put the chicken on one of the foil sheets and wrap it up again, sealing all the edges tightly.
Turn it over again an repeat the process with the second foil; sheet. The aim is to keep the juices from the chicken in, and the salt it will be cooked in, out.
The cooking pot
Put a trivet in a casserole dish or earthenware pot large enough to take the chicken and the trivet with plenty of room to spare.
Take the hot salt from the oven and very carefully pour about a quarter of it into the bottom of the of the dish or pot. Make sure you can still sit the chicken on the trivet.
Carefully position the wrapped chicken, breast side up, on the trivet.
Very carefully, pour in the rest of the hot salt so that it completely covers the wrapped chicken.
Cover the pot or dish with its lid and put it on a low to medium warm stove, warm enough the keep the salt hot. The chicken will now slowly bake in the hot salt.
Allow the chicken to cook in the salt for 90 minutes.
The, remove the dish or pot from the stove and allow it to cool down to a point where you can touch the pot and the chicken with your hands. Keep the lid on while it cools.
When cool enough, pour out about half of the salt so that you can easily lift the chicken out of the pot.
Put the chicken on a rimmed plate or dish so that when you unwrap it the juices poring out will be contained.
Carefully unwrap the chicken from its layers, making sure you get rid of any salt that may still be sticking to the wrappings. Be careful not to get any salt on the chicken or to allow the juices to escape the dish.
Check how well the chicken is cooked by piercing the thickest part of the thigh with a sharp knife tip. The juices should run clear. Should there be any remaining pink meat this can quickly be cooked off in the next stage with the sauce.
Finally, make the sauce.
Melt the lard in a wok, add the dry-fried salt and pepper and the ground sand ginger.
Scoop up all the juices from the chicken dish and drizzle them into the wok mixing them into the spices.
Now bring the sauce to the boil.
The traditional way to serve Hakka salt baked chicken is to shred all the meat from the chicken and to toss it into the wok to finish off in the sauce. Any pink parts of the meat that might still remain can now be cooked through. Keep tossing the shredded meat and skin in the wok until everything is well coated. Then arrange on a serving plate.
Hakka salt baked chicken is best served with steamed rice and a simple vegetable side.
Sand ginger, the crucial ingredient in Hakka salt baked chicken, is known by a variety of different names and it is useful to know these when sourcing the ingredient either online or in Asian stores. It’s Latin name is Kaempferia galanga but is also called sand ginger, aromatic ginger, kencur, cutcherry, or (more usually in its horticultural use as a plant) Resurrection Lily. It can be grown in the west, but usually as a greenhouse or house plant. The root is the culinary or medicinal ingredient. In dried form, as sliced root or powdered root, it can be found on eBay  or in stores such as Wai Yee Hong  or Wing Yip . Searching online for “buy Kaempferia galanga” is probably the best way to start. It is important to understand that sand ginger is not the same as ordinary powdered ginger, nor is it the same as powdered galangal, although it is part of the galangal family. If confronted with Chinese packaging, then go for shā jiāng fěn 沙薑粉 which is sand ginger and not jiāng fěn 薑粉 which is the ordinary powdered ginger. If you find sand ginger in sliced root form rather than powdered it will say 沙薑片on the packet. The Naughty Cook can guarantee that once you discover this ingredient, relatively unknown in the west but commonly found in Asian cuisine, you will love it. It is important to understand that sand ginger is not the same as ordinary powdered ginger, nor is it the same as powdered galangal, although it is part of the galangal family. If confronted with Chinese packaging, then go for shā jiāng fěn 沙薑粉 which is sand ginger and not jiāng fěn 薑粉 which is the ordinary powdered ginger. If you find sand ginger in sliced root form rather than powdered it will say 沙薑片 on the packet. The Naughty Cook can guarantee that once you discover this ingredient, relatively unknown in the west but commonly found in Asian cuisine, you will love it.