Easy Salt Baked Chicken (简易盐焗鸡)

5 from 4 votes
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Learn this super easy recipe to create extra juicy and tender roast chicken chicken with a crispy skin that is very fragrant. It’s a modernized version of the salt baked chicken and uses the oven to largely simplify the process and create a great result. It’s so easy to prepare and fast to cook, that you can make it for a weeknight dinner. But the result is so amazing that I would definitely serve it for occasions such as Chinese New Year. {Gluten-Free adaptable}

Carved salt baked chicken

I call this a cheater version of the traditional salt baked chicken, or 盐焗鸡 (Yan Ju Ji). It uses a completely different approach but in my opinion, creates a superior result. The traditional version uses a quite complicated process and the cooking time is long. It results in a tender juicy chicken with a sticky skin. But using this simplified version, you got to keep all the perks of the traditional version, with the added bonus of crispy skin. For me, the crispy skin IS the killer feature! 

Carved salt baked chicken close up
Roast chicken over rice with Chinese broccoli

How traditional salt baked chicken is made

A little background on this classic Chinese dish – salt baked chicken. 

If you look at the recipe for the original version, you’ll be surprised to see that the chicken is actually cooked on the stovetop. This is because the oven is not a standard cooking device in China. That’s why smart chefs invented this method, to mimic the result of roasted chicken without using an oven. 

Here is the original process:

  1. Rub the chicken with wine and spices, then marinate it overnight.
  2. Air dry it for a few hours before cooking.
  3. Heat up a few pounds of salt until very hot.
  4. Place the chicken in a big pot and bury it with the salt, then cook it on the stove.

The chicken skin will become sticky because the moisture gets drawn by the salt, creating a roasted chicken effect.

But, that one is SO MUCH WORK!

Why this recipe

Since I now have access to an oven, I feel like we can use a much easier method to achieve an effect similar to that of the traditional salt baked chicken.

  1. This recipe uses a simple homemade 5-ingredient spice rub for the seasoning for a very flavorful result, instead of using a few pounds of salt.
  2. The chicken is spatchcocked to shorten the cooking time, and it still cooks evenly. And the skin gets very evenly crisped.
  3. This recipe does not require marinating or air drying the chicken, further reducing the prep time.

Instead of spending a day and extra hours on the prep, and a few more hours of cooking, this recipe does everything in one go. And you will have the most juicy and flavorful chicken in less than an hour, with crispy skin!

Chinese roast chicken plated

Ingredients

Sand ginger vs. regular ginger

One important ingredient for traditional salt baked chicken is sand ginger powder. It has a unique aroma that is different from that of regular ginger. Unfortunately it’s a special ingredient that is quite hard to find. We’ve tested this with galangal and it doesn’t come close.

So here is my solution:

  • If you have access to a Chinatown or Chinese market, look for “Dried Sand Ginger” or “Sand Ginger Powder (沙薑粉 / 山奈粉). And use it in this recipe for the most authentic taste.
  • If you cannot find sand ginger powder, go ahead and use regular ginger powder instead. The flavor profile is different, but the result will be super delicious nonetheless.
  • If you happen to have Chinese rose wine on hand, using rose wine plus ginger powder will give the dish extra fragrance.

Although traditionalists will oppose the use of regular ginger powder in this recipe, I do not want you to miss out on this great dish because you cannot find a very uncommon ingredient.

Salt baked chicken powder

Again, if you have access to Chinatown or a Chinese market, you might be able to find “salt baked chicken powder”. It is made with very fine salt, sand ginger powder and a few other seasonings. And it usually comes in packages. You can use one package of salt baked chicken powder instead of my homemade spice mix for this recipe.

Turmeric

Many traditional salt baked chicken recipes use gardenia water to add the yellow color. Again, it’s another very special ingredient and can be hard to find. I decided to use turmeric in this recipe to give the chicken a beautiful color. And I ended up loving the taste.

Type of salt to use

If you prefer to serve the chicken by itself, use kosher salt for a milder taste.

I used table salt for a slightly saltier result so it goes perfectly with rice. But if you’re concerned about the salt level, use kosher salt.

For a saltier taste, sea salt will work as well.

Carved skin-on chicken over rice with Chinese broccoli

How to cook the cheater version of salt baked chicken

The most challenging part of this recipe is splitting open the chicken. It might look daunting, but all you need is a pair of poultry shears to easily cut up the chicken.

  1. Cut along the spine of the chicken
  2. Remove the back bones once you cut both sides
  3. Flatten the chicken as much as you can, so it cooks evenly
  4. Tuck the wing tips under the drumsticks to prevent burning
  5. Lay out a bed of aromatics
  6. Rub the back of the chicken with the spice mix
  7. Place the chicken on the aromatics, then rub the other side
  8. Bake until cooked through and crispy

That’s it! All you need is 15 minutes of active cooking time for this wonderfully fragrant chicken that has super crispy skin and tender juicy meat.

How to make salt baked chicken cooking step-by-step

How to serve salt baked chicken

Once you’ve roasted the chicken, you can carve it into large pieces for serving – breast, leg, and wing pieces. 

At Chinese restaurants, chefs usually carve the chicken further into bone-in bite-size slices right before serving, so the chicken is more manageable to eat and the meat remains juicy. However, you do need a heavy knife or a cleaver if you want to cut the bone-in pieces.

Alternatively, you can also debone the chicken, and then slice it. 

And of course, it’s totally OK to serve the larger pieces as they are. 

I enjoy serving this dish over steamed rice with some blanched vegetables for a complete meal. 

Also, if you save the chicken bones, you can use the regular method or the pressure cooker (Instant Pot) method to make delicious chicken broth.

How to carve a roast chicken
Salt baked chicken over rice with Chinese broccoli

Afterthought

This recipe might be a bit of a deviation from the traditional salt baked chicken. But I found it so much more approachable and the result is amazing. No matter whether you’re looking for an easy recipe for roast chicken, or trying to get a taste of this classic dish, I hope you give this one a try. Happy cooking!

Side dishes to serve with salt baked chicken

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Learn this super easy recipe to create extra juicy and tender roast chicken chicken with a crispy skin that is very fragrant. It’s a modernized version of the salt baked chicken and uses the oven to largely simplify the process and create a great result. It’s so easy to prepare and fast to cook, that you can make it for a weeknight dinner. But the result is so amazing that I would definitely serve it for occasions such as Chinese New Year. {Gluten-Free adaptable}

Easy Salt Baked Chicken (简易盐焗鸡)

5 from 4 votes
Learn this super easy recipe to create extra juicy and tender roast chicken chicken with a crispy skin that is very fragrant. It’s a modernized version of the salt baked chicken and uses the oven to largely simplify the process and create a great result. It’s so easy to prepare and fast to cook, that you can make it for a weeknight dinner. But the result is so amazing that I would definitely serve it for occasions such as Chinese New Year. {Gluten-Free adaptable}
To make the dish gluten-free, use dry sherry to replace the Shaoxing wine.
Author: Maggie Zhu
Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: restaurant-style
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

Spice Mix (*Footnote 2)

  • 1 tablespoon salt (*Footnote 3)
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder (or sand ginger powder if available)
  • 1/2 teaspoon five spice powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (Optional, for color)
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (or Chinese rose wine, or dry sherry)

Baking

  • 1 (3 lb to 5 lb / 1.3 kg to 2.2 kg) whole chicken (*Footnote 1)
  • 6 green onions , halved
  • 1 thumb ginger , sliced

Instructions

  • For the Spice mix: Combine the salt, sugar, ginger powder, five spice powder, and turmeric in a small bowl. Stir to mix well. Pour in the Shaoxing wine. Stir again to dissolve as much salt and sugar as possible. Set it aside to sit while you prepare the chicken.
  • To prepare the chicken: Cut the chicken along both sides of the backbone one side at a time using a pair of kitchen scissors. Flip the chicken over and flatten out the legs and wings. Press down on the center of the chicken breasts using your hands, until the breastbone cracks and the chicken lays flat. Tug the wing tips under the drumsticks.
  • Preheat the oven to 400° (200°C) convection (highly recommended, for a crispier skin) or 425°F (224°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the green onion and ginger slices in the center, to form a bed for the chicken.
  • Place the chicken skin side down. Spread a thin layer of the spice mix and rub until it’s even. Transfer the chicken onto the prepared green onion and ginger, skin side up this time. Rub the seasonings over the skin. You will have leftover spice mix if using a smaller chicken.
  • Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until the juices run clear when you probe the thickest part of the thigh and breast. Or the meat should read 165°F (74°C) if using a thermometer.
  • Once the chicken is baked, let rest for 10 minutes before carving. Serve over steamed rice as a main dish.

Notes

  1. The spice mix covers up to a 5 lb chicken, although I personally prefer to use a smaller chicken, which yields a more flavorful result.
  2. You can purchase “salt baked chicken powder” from the Chinese market, which mainly consists of sand ginger powder and salt. You can use 1 pack of this powder to replace the homemade spice mix, if you wish.
  3. For a more balanced taste, use kosher salt. I personally like the dish a bit saltier so it goes perfectly with steamed rice, so I used table salt. Sea salt creates a great taste as well, and it’s also on the slightly saltier side.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 441kcal, Carbohydrates: 2.8g, Protein: 65.7g, Fat: 16.8g, Saturated Fat: 4.6g, Cholesterol: 202mg, Sodium: 604mg, Potassium: 558mg, Fiber: 0.1g, Sugar: 2g, Calcium: 35mg, Iron: 3mg
Did You Make This Recipe?Don’t forget the last step! Leave a comment below, and tag me @OmnivoresCookbook and #OmnivoresCookbook on Instagram!

Lilja Walter was a part of the Omnivore’s Cookbook team and worked closely with Maggie to develop and test this recipe.

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Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Jeff the Chef @ Make It Like a Man! says:

    What an interesting recipe! This is a dish I’m unfamiliar with, and that salt cooking method I’ve never even heard of. I love your adaptation of it – it sounds like fun.

  2. Sophie Whitney says:

    5 stars
    Great recipe! the chicken was surprisingly juicy and tasty, and cooked perfectly in 45 min. This is a new classic in our home.

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      So happy you tried this out and thanks for leaving a positive review! 🙂

  3. jojobe says:

    5 stars
    I’m going to use this with my next whole chicken. It looks fab!

  4. Sylvia says:

    There seems to be the “spice rub” and the “spiced wine” but I mixed the wine into the spices at the start. Did I miss something?

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      No you didn’t miss anything. It is a wet rub (kinda hard to describe and maybe my choice of words are poor) that contains the wine and the spices. If should coat the chicken thinly.

      • Sylvia says:

        In step four, it says to use the spice rub and then in step five it says to spread on the spiced wine. What I’m not quite clear on is whether this is the same thing, applied twice?

      • Maggie Zhu says:

        So sorry for the confusion! I just realized that the steps are duplicated. I just deleted the duplicated step and now it should be more clear.

  5. Thulasi says:

    5 stars
    Hi! I made this for lunch today and it was sooooo good. And so easy like you said. Juicy and tasty. Crisp skin as well. Definitely making it again. Thank you for this awesome dish, Maggie 🙂

  6. Dan says:

    What’s the red dipping sauce in the middle of the photo of the finished dish?

  7. Jdl says:

    5 stars
    Made for Chinese New Year family dinner. Delicious and so prep so easy!

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      So happy that you like this one 🙂

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