One of the finer food memories of going to Ipoh, Malaysia to visit my nan as a child was the chance to indulge in this famous Ipoh salted chicken. My uncle would be asked to drive for miles to a certain popular restaurant with strict instructions to bring this parcel of goodness home. Once the red packaging box landed on the table, the ceremonious unveiling began. Herb-scented steam will float out of the parcel, filling the room with gratifying aromas. Pieces of moist flesh will be then pulled straight off the bone by eager hands. The sweet taste of the chicken was unforgettable.
This dish employs an unusual technique by baking the whole bird in scorching coarse salt. After coating the chicken with aromatic spices and stuffed with some Chinese herb, dang gui (angelica root), it is then wrapped in parchment paper and buried in a wok full of smoking hot coarse salt. The salt itself does not impart a hefty saltiness to the meat but instead, it retain the heat and cooks the bird evenly like an oven, locking in all the flavours and basting the bird in its own juice. This results in a truly succulent chicken.
I have adapted the technique and baked mine in the oven instead as I do not have a wok that is big enough to hold the chicken but feel free to do so if you have the equipment. Otherwise, this oven bake method works just as well.
You can of course joint the chicken for easy serving but the best way to enjoy this is to pull the meltingly tender flesh straight of the bone with your bare hands, juice and all.
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 whole free-range chicken, about 1kg
5 tbsp Mei Kuei Lu Chiew (Chinese rose wine), substitute with shaoxing wine if not available
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp five spice powder
1 tsp sea salt
1 spring onion, cut into 2in length
3 slices of fresh ginger
6 pieces of dang gui (Angelica roots)
2kg coarse salt
Wipe dry the chicken with some kitchen paper.
Combine the rose wine, soy sauce, five spice and sea salt. Rubbed the mixture all over the chicken, including the inside cavity. Leave to marinate for at least 1 hour, preferably even longer to allow the flavours to permeate the chicken.
After this time, stick the spring onion, ginger slices and dang gui (angelica roots) into the cavity. Place the chicken in the middle of two large sheets of parchment paper and wrap the chicken tightly.
Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 220ºC. Line a shallow roasting tin with a large aluminium foil, fill with the coarse salt and heat in the oven until very hot, for about 10-15 minutes.
Take the tin out of the oven, remove half the salt and reserved. Make a hole in the centre of the salt and place the chicken parcel in it. Top with the reserved salt earlier so it is completely covered. Wrap the whole parcel tightly with the foil.
Lower the oven to 190ºC and cook the chicken for 1 hour. Remove form the oven and leave to rest for 15 minutes before unwrapping the parcel and taking the chicken out.
Alternatively, if you are using a large wok, heat up the salt over medium-high heat until it start to smoke. Make a well in the middle of the salt and place the chicken parcel in this. Completely cover the parcel with the salt . Lid on and lower the heat and cook for 1 hour. Make sure to rest the chicken for 15 minutes before unwrapping and serving.