To cook a whole chicken! I keep telling myself I'm going to stop making meat at home and only eat it when it's prepared for me. But, then I flip through a cookbook and find a recipe like "Bacon-and-Herb-Rubbed Salt-Baked Chicken." Chicken, rubbed with bacon and herbs? As soon as my interest is piqued, there is nothing I can do but make the recipe! Adapted from Olives and Oranges.
Hypothesis: Chicken rubbed with bacon and herbs will be wonderfully seasoned and the salt "helmet" will produce moist and tender meat.
8 ounces bacon
4 cloves garlic
15 sage leaves
6 sprigs rosemary
2 dried chile de árbol
5 egg whites
2 1/2 cups salt
3 1/2 pound whole chicken
1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a 9x13" baking dish (or roasting pan) with aluminum foil.
2. Whisk the egg whites until frothy. Whisk in the salt. Pour one third of the mixture on the aluminum foil to form a bed for the chicken.
3. Finely chop the raw bacon, garlic (can use garlic press), sage leaves and rosemary leaves. Mix together to form the rub.
4.Rub one third of the mixture on the breast-side of the chicken. Place the chicken breast-side-down into the salt bed.
5. Rub the top of the chicken with the remaining bacon/herb rub. Pour the remaining salt and egg white mixture over the chicken, trying to coat the chicken with the mixture.
6. Bake for 90 minutes. Make sure the thickest part of the chicken registers over 165° and the juices are clear. Rest 10-15 minutes.
7. Remove the salty crust and carve.
This chicken was incredible! It was well-flavored from the herbs but not overly salty. It was very tender and moist. Even the breast meat was tender.
This may have been the best chicken I've ever had! The egg white/salt "helmet" sealed in the moisture and the herbs and bacon flavored the meat nicely. The original recipe called for 7 cups of salt. I didn't have the heart to add that much and 2 1/2 cups of salt did the trick! The easiest thing to do next time would be to buy a 26-oz package of salt and dedicate it for use in this recipe (which would be more than 2 1/2 cups). I don't think the amount of salt is as important as making sure to coat the entire chicken.
I've been trying to find a good reference to explain why the salt coat is important. Most sources discuss osmosis and the difference in salt concentration within the chicken versus the coat. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find an explanation that I find convincing. To me this seems like a poor explanation for two reasons: 1. the cells are dead, so I would imagine the salt would dehydrate the cells because the dead cell lacks the ability to pump ions across the membrane to maintain cell size and solute concentration so the water would move out of the cell, blah, blah, blah and 2. even with diffusion occurring, I don't believe it would be enough to penetrate the entire chicken. The most convincing explanation I've found relates to brining. The explanation was that the increased concentration of salt denatures the proteins, allowing them to interact with and bind more water molecules, which will be maintained throughout the cooking process. However, this recipe isn't using the process of brining. Instead, I think the salt coat prevents the water from evaporating as the chicken cooks (simple as this--put a lid on a pot while it's cooking and less water will be able to evaporate and escape the pot).
The original recipe calls for putting the rub mixture in a food processor. I didn't have a food processor available and instead used a knife. A food processor might help with bacon, which I find difficult to slice or chop. The herbs and bacon come off of the chicken with the salt "helmet" which eliminates the need for a super-fine rub.
All I could think about was how delicious a Thanksgiving turkey could be prepared this way. That might actually take 7 cups of salt! Because of the increased cooking time required for a turkey to cook properly, it might not be as moist as a small chicken, but I'd really like to try.