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Fragrant Chicken in a Salty Crust

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Peter Roelant arrives at your table. He is bearing a tray containing something wrapped in a stiff, doughy blanket. Crack, goes the mallet. Off comes the crust. Up goes the fragrant steam as it escapes into the air. There on the tray sits a plump, juicy tiny chicken waiting to be carved.

The idea of salt-crust cooking is not new. The method is found in Turkey--where it is often used for fish--and in France.

“On sweet-fleshed baby chickens,” says Roelant, “the salted crust is far more subtle than direct salting. When the crust opens, fragrances throw themselves at you. I love the experience.”

With the chicken, Roelant suggests a starter of tomato soup flavored with garlic, a simple green salad and a decadent dessert. For the wine, try a light Bordeaux, or even a good Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley.

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PETER ROELANT’S SALT-CRUSTED CHICKEN

1 (1- to 1 1/2-pound) baby chicken or Cornish hen

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 large shallot

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1 clove garlic

1 sprig marjoram, thyme or rosemary

Dash black pepper

2 tablespoons oil

Salt Crust Dough

Chive Sauce

Rinse chicken and pat dry inside and out. Place 1 tablespoon butter, shallot, garlic and marjoram in cavity. Season chicken to taste with pepper.

Heat remaining butter with oil in skillet or wok until butter melts. Sear chicken until well-browned on all sides. Place in baking dish and bake at 400 degrees 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly on baking dish.

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Roll Salt Crust Dough as you would any dough into size large enough to blanket exposed surface of chicken (underside of chicken does not need to be covered with dough). Tuck in sides around chicken. Bake 15 to 20 minutes longer.

When ready to serve, cut through hardened salt crust with knife to remove crust. Remove chicken and carve as desired. Serve with Chive Sauce. Garnish platter with cooked baby carrots, celery root, leek, whole shallots and small potatoes, or as desired. Makes 2 servings.

Salt Crust Dough

2 egg whites

Flour

1/4 cup kosher salt

Combine egg whites, 1/2 cup flour and kosher salt in mixer or food processor and knead or process until dough is no longer sticky, adding more flour as needed until dough is manageable.

Chive Sauce

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1/4 cup whipping cream

1 clove garlic

1/2 small shallot

Salt, pepper

1/2 bunch chives, cut up

Bring whipping cream to boil. Simmer 2 minutes. Place in blender with garlic, shallot, salt and pepper to taste and chives. Blend 2 minutes until sauce is formed. Makes about 1/2 cup.


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