Chicken Ballotine in Salt Crust

by Ben Reade.

This is a great dish to make at home. It gives the illusion of being technically complicated but is really deceivingly simple, it will cause a wow from guests, and most probably from yourself as well.

A ballotine can take many forms, but in one of its classical and perhaps most common guises, it takes the form of a chicken, with all of its bones removed, wrapped around a stuffing of meat and vegetables and roasted. We’ve taken it a small creative stage further, and wrapped it up in a salt dough. We decided to make this with charcoal, the effect being decidedly rustic and theatical.  When removed from the oven it seems a loaf of black bread, primal in every sense this really appeals to some basic human urge, especially if cooked in a wood fired oven, this is gastronomy using techniques available to very early man. 

When cracked open, using the heel of a knife, a plume of aromatic chicken steam explodes into the surroundings, the chicken inside is steamed, keeping all of its juices. We added to the perfume with one of our favorite aromas, that of roasted hay. The hay, which is wrapped around the chicken serves the dual purpose of keeping the salt dough  from direct contact with the chicken at the same time imparting its flavor and perfume onto the meat. It seems natural, a happy chicken, bobbing, clucking and searching in the hay of a farmyard, then finally being cooked in the same flavors. So, how to make this dish and impress?

Start by boning the chicken, (If you need a helping hand watch this – Its really very simple to bone a chicken, infact, if you can carve a roast chicken, you can definately debone a raw one.

Then you need a stuffing, I would recomend some coursely chopped chicken with some sausage meat, chestnuts, diced apple, onions, garlic, a little freshly grated nutmeg and a dash of cream, be creative and use what ever is available to you, keeping it solid enough that the chicken can be wrapped around it, but soft enough that you can slice it neatly afterwards.

Then you are ready to wrap the chicken in your crust. Make a dough with about 150g powdered very high quality charcoal (if you dont have the absolute best, then miss this out) mixed with 125g coarse salt, 125g fine salt, 500g flour, some aromatics, for example bay and juniper berry powder. Add to this dry mix some water, add it slowly as you may be surprised by how little you need, but you need to bring it into a stiff and relatively smooth dough consistency. Once you have the right texture, put the pastry in a bag and allow it to rest for at least an hour, or perhaps over night if possible.

After the pastry has rested, roll it out until it is large enough to fit around the chicken. Place some hay in the centre, and lay the deboned, stuffed and tied chicken, breast-side down on top. Wrap the chicken in hay and pastry and smooth off the surface. When it’s ready, roll it over onto a baking tray, so as the breast side of the chicken and the smoother side of the pastry is now on top. Bake in a hot oven until you reach around 70°C in the center, then remove and leave the roast to rest for 20 mins, then bring it to the table and crack it open, watch out as all the chicken juices will be inside the dough, so you might want to crack it and drain it in the kitchen. Remove the chicken from the crust (which, in case you’re wondering is NOT edible), rub off any remaining hay and remove the string. The chicken can now be sliced like a loaf of bread as it has no bones, start at the head end. Good luck cooking and bon appetit!