From Our Test Kitchen: Clay-Roasted Herb Chicken

Cook, Williams-Sonoma Test Kitchen

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.


It’s no wonder the Clay-Roasted Herb Chicken became a centerpiece for our Sunday Supper with Friends.


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 authorOlivia 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.

6 comments about “From Our Test Kitchen: Clay-Roasted Herb Chicken

  1. Amanda

    What kind of clay did you use? I really want to try this but getting your kit isn’t easy, I am in Canada on an island. So I will attempt with potters clay…

    1. william

      I made this dish over thirty years ago using flour, corn starch, and salt to make the clay from a recipe found in – i think- good housekeeping (not sure), anyway all attempts to find said recipe have ended in failure. It’s been so frustrating since it was absolutely the best chicken that I have ever eaten. When I cracked the clay open with a hammer and grabbed the drum stick the bone completely and cleanly slid out of the bird and into my hand, the meat just melted in my mouth. I’ve never been happier to have dinner guests stand me up. I have seen recipes using non-toxic potter’s clay.

      1. william

        Also, I don’t think the original recipe used parchment paper.
        The salt from the clay was absorbed by the chicken.

  2. Ines

    I bought the clay at Williams and Sonoma and tried it last night for dinner. Sorry, I’m a little bit late… Anyways, I wanted to leave a review on the W&S site but it’s not possible because the product is not available anymore. So I figured you might pass it along… Ok, so I loved the idea, the presentation was awesome for guests BUT after 90 minutes in the oven (80 stated on the recipe) the chicken was not even close to being cooked through. I had to cook it another 30 (!!!) minutes uncovered in a casserole dish, which somewhat ruined our dinner. It was still moist (maybe not as much as it should’ve been) and the herb butter was also great but the cooking time in the instructions need adjustment!


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