salt bake city

salt baked chicken 

As I’ve admitted in these pages before, I very rarely cook the same recipe twice. It’s not so much that I have a short attention span, more of always being on the lookout for new flavours and techniques. After all life is short and I don’t want to miss out on any culinary marvels.

In my quest for the new I am sometimes lucky enough to discover not just a new recipe but a whole new cooking technique. Which is what happened a few weeks ago when I was cooking dinner for some dear friends visiting from London. Having left my run to the fish markets a little late, I ended up with the smallest remaining ocean trout which weighed in at a whopping THREE kilograms. Yes a whole lot of fish.

The plan was to bake it in a salt crust, my first time trying the technique inspired by Jared Ingersoll of Danks Street Depot. As I was rolling out my dough to encase my Moby Dick sized fish, I really began to question what I was doing. How on earth was this fish going to even fit in the oven naked, let alone wrapped in a salty blanket? And how was I going to know if it was cooked enough?

But with a little help from my friends the fish was squeezed into the oven. After a good bake and an even longer rest, we assembled in the kitchen for the great de-crusting. Nervously, I lifted the lid to reveal moist moist pearly pink fish. Cooked to juicy perfection and perfectly seasoned from the crust. Yum.

After one successful attempt salt baking became my new favourite technique. It does feel a little wasteful to make a dough that you throw out but it’s so much fun opening the baked parcel. That and the way that whatever you’ve cooked remains so moist and succulent makes it all worth while. The other bonus is the thrill from the element of risk that you can’t peek to check for doneness. A bit of culinary roulette.

When I was thinking about what to cook for a family dinner on St Patrick’s Day some risky salt baked chicken with an oh-so-Irish green salsa verde was an easy choice. I probably should have gone for a potato accompaniment but decided on the less traditional fennel and parsnip salad. Am sure St Patrick would have approved…all good things

st patricks day family dinner
smoked salmon mousse
salt baked chook with celery salsa verde
shaved parsnip & fennel salad
passionfruit creme caramels

smoked salmon mousse
serves 6-8
Adapted from Sharing Plates by Jared Ingersoll

This is one of those super easy recipes that seems like you’ve gone to a lot of effort. Jared really stresses the importance of keeping the temperature of everything really cold and minimising the amount of mixing of the cream as the secrets to a perfect mousse.

200g cold smoked salmon
250mL double (heavy) cream
snowpea (mangetout) sprouts, to serve
celery sticks, optional, to serve
lemon cheeks, to serve
crackers, to serve

Chill your food processor bowl in the freezer for an hour or so before you’re ready. Whizz salmon until it forms a smooth paste. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for at least 30mins. Add the cream to the chilled salmon paste and stir until only just combined. Season and refrigerate.

To serve place a dollup of mousse on a plate and arrange sprouts, celery (if using), lemon cheeks and crackers along side.
salt baked chook
serves 6
Adapted from Jared Ingersoll’s Danks Street Depot.

This is one of those dishes that is both rustic and impressive at the same time. Be sure and invite your guests into the kitchen for the opening of the crust so that they get the full effect. If you are short of time you could skip the dough resting stage but it does make it easier to roll the dough out.

As Jared suggests this is a great technique for picnics or other out of home eating occasions as you can start the cooking and then let it rest while you travel to your destination.

1kg salt
1kg plain flour
600mL water
2T olive oil
1.8kg organic free range chicken
bunch thyme
celery salsa verde (recipe below), to serve

Remove chicken from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature. Combine salt and flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre and add almost all of the water. Stir to form a dough adding remaining water if it is too dry. Knead for a few minutes so that you have a smooth dough then cover and allow to stand for an hour or so.

Preheat oven to 200C. Roll dough out on a well floured surface until it is approx 5mm thick or large enough to completely enrobe your chicken.

Wash chook and pat dry. Rub with oil. Tuck wings behind the back of the bird and pull on each of the legs for good luck (or to open out the bird). Place thyme in chicken cavity then put the bird breast down in the middle of the dough. Gather the dough to completely encase the chicken and place breast side up on a baking tray. Bake for one hour then rest for at least another hour.

To serve crack crust and remove top then carve bird. Place a dollup of salsa verde on each of  6 dinner plates and then top with chicken and some thyme. Pass shaved parsnip and fennel salad separately.
celery salsa verde
Adapted from Sharing Plates by Jared Ingersoll

1 bunch celery
1/2 bunch continental parsley
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
6 anchovies, finely chopped
80g capers, rinsed and finely chopped
zest 1 lemon
extra virgin olive oil

Remove all the leaves from the celery, discarding any really coarse ones. Whizz leaves with parsley in a food processor until finely chopped and transfer to a mixing bowl.

Finely dice 3 ribs of celery reserving the rest for another use. Add diced celery to the leaves and stir through remaining ingredients adding enough oil to form a thick sauce. Season with pepper only, keeping in mind that the chicken will be quite salty.

shaved parsnip & fennel salad
serves 6
Inspired by Jared Ingersoll in Sharing Plates.

This is a continuation of my obsession with shaved salads. If you don’t have a mandoline or v-slicer you could try a vegetable peeler but the raw parsnip really does need to be very finely sliced for this salad to work.

Jared used celeriac in his salad which would work really well. Unfortunately I couldn’t get my hands on any so had to substitute in the parsnip and fennel with reasonable success but am planning to repeat with celeriac when it comes into season.

6 small parsnips, approx 500g
2 bulbs baby fennel
juice 1/2 lemon
half quantity of celery salsa verde (recipe above)

Peel parsnips and shave lengthwise using a V-slicer or mandoline. Trim fennel and shave lengthwise as well. Place vegetables in a large bowl and toss through lemon juice and enough salsa verde to dress the vegetables.

passionfruit creme caramels
serves 6
Inspired by Emma Knowles’ passionfruit coconut caramels in the March 07 Australian Gourmet Traveller.

You’ve got to love a do ahead dessert. Creme Caramel was one of the first posh (read French) desserts I ever experimented with. At first I wasn’t sure about putting caramel with passionfruit but they went together like old friends.

The thing that always disappoints me with creme caramel is that there is always some caramelly goodness that sticks to the base of the ramekins. If anyone has any suggestions on how to minimise this would love to hear them.

200g sugar
250mL (1C) pouring cream
3 eggs
100mL passionfruit pulp (approx 3)

For the caramel: heat half of the sugar with 125mL (1/2C) water in a small saucepan and stir over a medium heat until sugar is dissolved. Increase heat and bring to the boil. Simmer for approx 5mins without stirring until sugar goes a light caramel colour. Divide caramel between 6 1/2C capacity ramekins, swirling so that the caramel covers the base of each.

Preheat oven to 150C. For the custard: Combine remaining sugar and cream in a small saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Whisk together eggs and passionfruit and then pour in the hot cream. Divide custard between ramekins and place in a baking dish. Pour boiling water into the dish so that it comes half way up the sides of the ramekins. Cover with foil and bake 20-30mins or until custard is just set. Remove from the waterbath and refrigerate until ready to serve.

To serve place ramekins in boiling water for 1 min. Run a knife around the edge then invert onto serving plates.

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