It seems everyone has their own method for ensuring a juicy chicken — whether it’s brining or basting or both. But the one I witnessed in the Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen several weeks ago took the quest to a new level.
In the tasting room, I was greeted by a bird encased completely in hard clay, resting on a cutting board next to a mallet. Our cooks dramatically whacked the surface with the mallet as we watched, and the clay cracked, revealing a perfectly tender whole roasted chicken.
I asked our Test Kitchen cook Sandra Wu for tips on making this unusual dish at home, and she said it all starts with delicious flavor.
“We made a very fragrant compound butter with shallot, lemon zest, herbs and aromatics to flavor the chicken,” she says. “It’s rubbed underneath and over the skin of the chicken.”
Next, the whole bird is wrapped in parchment paper, which Wu says acts as a protective barrier between the roasting clay and the chicken. Then two pieces of clay are rolled out onto parchment; the chicken is placed on top of the first round, while the second round is used to cover the top.
“The clay really keeps the chicken nice and moist,” says Wu. “It may not get as brown as traditional roasted chicken, but it’s very juicy and tender.”
Once the chicken is done, you can gather friends and family around for clay cracking — voila! Here are a few of Wu’s tips:
- Measure out your clay rounds perfectly before you put the chicken on top. If you don’t, you may have to re-roll it, which can get messy.
- Seal the clay tightly around the chicken, with no gaps or holes. A tighter seal means more moisture locked inside.
- Be careful when cracking the clay, because steam will be released. Once you remove the clay, take the internal temperature of the chicken to make sure it’s done; if it’s not, put it back in the oven on a clean piece of parchment.
“This is fun because it’s something most people probably haven’t seen before,” saysWu. “There’s an element of showmanship; it’s very dramatic and different. And the flavor is great!”
About the author: Olivia Terenzio grew up in Mississippi, where she cultivated a love of sweet potatoes, crawfish and cloth napkins at a young age. A passion for sharing food with friends and family led her into the kitchen and later to culinary school, where she learned how to roast a chicken and decorate a cake like a pro. As a Williams-Sonoma blog editor, she’s now lucky enough to be talking, writing and thinking about food all day.