Sounds weird, huh?
Salt roasting… What the heck?
But it’s been around a long, long while, and though you may never have heard of it, it’s a roasting technique used by many chefs and savvy cooks to impart a crispness and add flavor to meats, poultry, fish and vegetables that conventional roasting just can’t match.
Beyond salt roasting’s appeal, from a culinary perspective, it’s got the WOW factor going, too.
Imagine bringing a large mound of crusted salt right out of the oven then cracking it open at the dinner table to reveal a perfectly cooked bird with tender, juicy meat underneath it.
But salt roasting isn’t a culinary parlor trick; it’s actually a tried-and-true method specifically used to crisp the outside of a product while sealing in its juices. I especially like to use it on whole chickens because it gives the skin a wonderful crispness. That’s achieved by burying the meat under a layer of coarse salt and baking it. As the meat roasts, the salt forms a cocoon-like seal, which simultaneously roasts and steams the meat, trapping the juices and flavors inside. It works best with beef and pork roasts, whole chickens, whole fish and even vegetables (I use it occasionally with yams and potatoes.
The procedure to salt roast your meats is about as easy as it gets, and because salt is rather cheap, it really doesn’t add much to the cost of your dish or require much additional time to prepare.
Here’s how you do it. I’ll use a whole frying chicken as an example.
First, you’ll need a whole chicken. A 2 ½ lb. frying chicken will do nicely. Look for one with the skin fully intact around the bird. Wash and pat it dry.
Begin by preheating your oven to about 400° F and line a small roasting pan with foil (makes cleanup easier afterwards).
Chop a cup’s worth of combined onions, celery and carrots. Stuff that, with a sprig or two of thyme, sage and oregano, into the cavity of the chicken. Truss the chicken by tying the legs together so that the hole you put the veggies and herbs in is as closed as possible. Then, tuck the wing tips under.
Next, you’ll need some salt. It’s best to use coarse Kosher salt. Place the salt in a mixing bowl and add about a dozen large egg whites. Mix with your hand until the salt mixture is like wet, packable sand. If you want, you can also add some chopped fresh herbs to this salt mixture.
Place a couple of cups of the salt mixture in the foil-lined roasting pan, pat it down, and then place your chicken on top of it. Pack the remaining salt mixture over and around the chicken to completely enclose it.
Place the salt-encrusted chicken in the oven and roast it until done, which will be about an hour and 15 to 30 minutes or until an insta-read thermometer inserted between the thigh and breast reads 165 F.
When done, remove the pan from the oven and allow the bird to rest about 10 minutes before cracking it open with the back of a kitchen knife or spoon.
Peel off the crust, transfer the finished bird to a service platter and carve.
Does it work for everything?
Other roasts, fish or vegetables work exactly the same way with the same salt mixture. The only variable is changing the seasonings on your roasts and mimicking them in your salt mixture if you choose. Otherwise, you are roasting like you otherwise would, albeit at a little higher temperature. I recommend 400 F for all salt roasting.
Now, amazingly enough, you’ll find that while the entire meat is encrusted in salt, it won’t make the dish overly salty. It will however, make the skin (of poultry) crisp and the meat juicy and tender.
If salt roasting has piqued your culinary curiosity, start with a chicken. It’s an inexpensive first attempt, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.