Salt-Baked Chicken

July 17, 2018
7 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Prep time 2 hours
  • Cook time 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Makes 1 whole chicken
Author Notes

Yim guk gai has origins in Chinese Hakka culture. But like many Chinese dishes, it gained a new lease on life after being brought over to Malaysia in the earth 20th century. In the Malaysian city of Ipoh, in particular, it’s gained an almost cult-like status, with dozens of shops and businesses that have, for decades, relied solely on selling salt-baked chicken for income. Even now, their hype has not waned, as people all over the country (myself included) would flock all the way to Ipoh and brave the long lines just to get their hands on these salty, intensely savory birds. —Jun

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: Why Chinese Salt-Baked Chicken Is the Juiciest Chicken Ever. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 whole chicken, 3-4 pounds
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons ginger powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
  • 1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced
  • 3 scallion stems
  • 4 pounds coarse salt
  1. Mix the salt, ginger powder, turmeric powder, and Shaoxing wine together to form a paste. Rub this paste all over the chicken, including the cavity, to season it. Leave it uncovered in the refrigerator for 2 hours, or up to overnight.
  2. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator an hour before cooking to get it to room temperature. Then, stuff the fresh ginger slices and scallion stems into the cavity of the chicken. (Note: If your chicken doesn’t quite fit into the pot/Dutch oven it’ll be baked in, halve or quarter your chicken at this point and bake them in two or more batches later on.)
  3. Wrap the chicken in two layers of parchment paper, fold it into a parcel and tie it up with string or kitchen twine. Make sure the chicken is fully wrapped inside the parchment. (Optional: Before wrapping in parchment, truss up the chicken with kitchen twine.)
  4. In a large pan or wok, fry the coarse salt on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes. As the salt gets hot, it’ll dry out even more and you start to get a whiff of a smoky, salty smell. Stop at this point.
  5. Transfer about 1/3 of the hot salt to a large, deep pot or Dutch oven, making sure to spread it evenly on the bottom of the pot. (Be careful, the salt is really hot!) Now place the wrapped chicken into the cooking vessel, nestle it on the bed of salt, and cover it completely with the rest of the salt.
  6. Place a lid on the pot/Dutch oven, and cook over medium-low heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Then, turn off the heat and let it sit, covered, for another 30 minutes. The residual heat in the salt should continue to cook the chicken.
  7. When the salt is warm(ish) the touch, scrape off the top layer of salt and carefully dig out the chicken. Most of the salt, as long as they’re not tainted by the cooking juices of the chicken, can be reused for your next batch of salt-baking!
  8. Unwrap the chicken from the parchment, and serve it chopped up into chunks. Or if you’re going down the more traditional route, roughly shred it with your hands. There will be some baking juices in the bottom of your parcel (in Chinese culture we call this ji jing or chicken essence). Pour this nectar over the chicken as you serve it.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Stephanie B.
    Stephanie B.
  • John Dugan
    John Dugan
  • Jun
  • FrugalCat
  • Michael Snyder
    Michael Snyder

25 Reviews

Tuesday K. December 16, 2018
my chicken was completely raw....
Jeanine G. August 19, 2018
Is there a substitute for the shoaxing wine?
Stephanie B. August 26, 2018
I've heard of dry sherry as a substitute. I think that would work. With only 2 tbsp of wine for a whole chicken, I think you could be pretty lax about the type of wine you use - the main flavor here is the chicken itself, not the seasonings.
Stephanie B. August 4, 2018
Hello, is there any reason I shouldn't bake this in the oven? Thanks!
Jun August 5, 2018
Hi Stephanie! It's just a more traditional way of doing it. (It's usually cooked in a large pot or wok heated from the bottom, so the stovetop mimics this best.) But I think the oven would work fine too! 😊
Stephanie B. August 15, 2018
Thanks! I tried making this tonight (poor planning on my part to slowly bake a whole chicken after a busy workday). I baked it at 400F for an hour, turned off the oven and left the chicken in for another 10 minutes, and then took it out of the oven and let it sit covered for another 25 minutes. But, as others mentioned, the top was not cooked fully. It maybe because there was not enough salt (4lbs) to really cover the top of the chicken in my Dutch oven. I had to put it back in the oven for another 15min. Next time I might try 5lbs salt, or just bake at 425.

On the plus side, my parchment wrapping sealed everything in, so there's plenty of salt to try again! When I opened up the parchment and cut into the chicken, OMG, it was so juicy I was worried it still wasn’t cooked - but it was just that juicy. The chicken was falling off the bone, so tender, so moist, and soooo good. I’m definitely going to make this again, it’s amazing and worth trying to get right. Thanks so much for the recipe!
wl110 July 26, 2018
My (Taiwanese-American) parents cooked chicken like this! Very excited to revive the tradition. They made cornish hen that was tender enough to eat with a spoon.
Peggy S. July 26, 2018
GREAT IDEA !!! How long did they cook the Cornish hens ???
Jennifer July 23, 2018
Hi! We just made this tonight, but our chicken didn’t quite turn out right. We used a slightly bigger chicken at about 4.5lbs. Wrapped in parchment, placed in hot salt and let it go on the stovetop a little over an hour. We let it rest the 30 minutes.

When we opened our Dutch oven, the chicken wasn’t cooked on top (we covered it with salt and packed it well!) and the bottom juices had leaked out all over and the parchment looked burnt. We had about an inch of salt on the bottom of the Dutch oven.

Any tips for us?! We want to make this again.
Jani July 23, 2018
Unfortunately we had the same experience as Jennifer. I let it go another 45 minutes with the breast down this time in salt again on medium heat and it's still not cooked through. The parchment isn't salvable and there is salt everywhere :( I gave up and threw it in the oven to finish it.
Jun July 24, 2018
Hey Jennifer and Jani, thanks for the feedback! I'm so sorry this didn't quite turn out for you! It took me a few tries and tweaks to get the technique and recipe just right too, so fret not! Second time's the charm, fingers crossed. 😋

There are several variables that could've affected the cook of the chicken here, but often the key is to get that salt super hot, smoking hot even, in the beginning, and making sure that heat is retained throughout the cooking process. So depending on the size and make of your Dutch oven, you'd want to adjust the heat of your stovetop so that even the salt on the very top gets heated. (A medium-low fire worked for me and my smaller chicken, but you might need to go towards medium or medium-high perhaps, especially for a much larger chicken.) Also for a larger chicken (4.5 pounds, say), I'd use more coarse salt (5-6 pounds), which would help retain more heat.

And to prevent any leakage, it'd help to wrap the chicken really snugly in 2 or maybe even 3 layers of parchment, making sure there are no holes or gaps.

I hope this helps. Do let me know how your next yim guk gai adventure goes!
Jennifer July 26, 2018
Thanks for the input! We will definitely be trying this again!
Peggy S. July 23, 2018
Question - Can the salt be saved and re-used for another time? Also, I have salt I planned to use in icecream make will this work ???
Jun July 24, 2018
Yes! Unless it's been stained by any leaked chicken juices (usually on the bottom), the salt can be reused. Though I usually save it solely for salt-baking purposes, rather than for seasoning.
Laura P. July 20, 2018
Do you bake this in the oven or on low heat stove top? I'm dying to try this!
Jun July 20, 2018
I did it on the stove top! But I'd think the oven would work too.
John D. July 19, 2018
The main problem I have with this is getting a whole chicken that's only two lbs.
Jun July 20, 2018
Oh gosh you're right. In Malaysia, we often use these really lean, free range chickens (called ayam kampung) for this particular dish. But I definitely should've used the average weight of chickens you have in the US. Thanks for pointing this out John, it's now changed!
Valerie M. July 20, 2018
Game hens, perhaps? I'm gonna try it!
FrugalCat July 20, 2018
In some Latin grocery stores here in Miami (a chain called Persidente) they have scrawny chickens they call Penny Hens. These chickens are about 2 pounds. Funny thing is, they never go on sale. But regular chicken do go on sale. So if there is a good sale, a plump 4 or 5 lb bird is cheaper than the penny hen. Weird, huh? The good thing about the scrawny chickens is they fit into my small crockpot.
Jun July 21, 2018
Ooh how interesting! It's the same in Malaysia too, we have scrawny 'ayam kampung's are usually more expensive as they're prized for their deeper, 'meatier' flavour.
Kelly July 22, 2018
Hi Yi. I'm not good with pairing foods. I want to make this but what side dishes would you recommend especially if one doesn't like rice? Thank you.
Jun July 22, 2018
Hmm perhaps some stir-fried or steamed leafy vegetables with soy sauce would be nice! Or maybe some egg or tofu dish. Haha I'm just amping up those classic Chinese flavours really. :P
Kelly July 23, 2018
Great making it tonight. Many thanks!
Michael S. July 24, 2018
Yeah in Mexico, even more so. The chicken I managed to get to today is 2.5 kg – so nearly twice the size called for even in the updated recipe. Thinking maybe throwing my pot in the oven (and upping the cook time, too) might help. Thoughts?