My hometown Ipoh is famous for it’s traditional Cantonese style salt baked chicken. The marinated chicken is wrapped in baking paper and then buried in salt and baked. A good salt baked chicken is tender and juicy and very aromatic. Two important ingredients used in salt baked chicken are: 1) sand ginger (沙姜) or cekur root in Malay, and 2) Chinese Angelica root (当归). Both have a very distinct smell and flavour that will immediately give you the association with Salt Baked Chicken for those who know their SBC well.
I would like to clarify that sand ginger is actually different from normal ginger. Do not mistake the scientific name Kaempferia galanga with Thai galangal either. Sand ginger has a slight peppery taste and goes well as a marinade for chicken and pork. The Chinese call it sha jiang and the powder form can be found in traditional Chinese medicinal shops. In Malaysia it is called cekur and fresh cekur roots can be found in the wet markets. The roots and leaves are used in curries and traditional Malay rice dishes. Individual farmers plant them in small scale because the yield is low and it takes a long time to grow. Therefore, you might have to be at the market at the right time and day for a chance encounter.
Chinese Angelica Root
Chinese Angelica root or dang gui is a type of medicinal herb readily available in Chinese medicinal shops. It has a nice herbal fragrance that can be released when boiled. That is why it has to be soaked in boiling water for a few minutes before it is cooked with the chicken. If you use it dry, the smell will not come through. The main function of dang gui in this dish is to infuse the chicken with a herbal fragrance. Tuck the slices in between the chicken skin or nooks and crevices.
With these two ingredients ready, you can easily make salt baked chicken at home. Thanks to modern technology, lazy home cooks like me can cheat our way through with an air fryer or electric oven. No need to buy a whole tonne of salt to bury the chicken. Just rub the marinade over the chicken, wrap in foil and bake in an air fryer.
- 2 heaped tsp sand ginger powder
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 4-5 tsp sesame oil (enough to make into paste)
- sliced Chinese angelica roots (enough to tuck inside the chicken)
- Make sure you rub enough salted marinade over the thick parts of the chicken
- You can use a whole chicken or cut it up for faster cooking. You can also use chicken drumsticks only
- Poke a skewer through the thickest part of the chicken, if the juices run clear it is done