This is a "double-dog-dare" kind of recipe. Its flavors are based on those found in a true Chinese salt baked chicken - a dish I love to eat but hate to make because I always manage to burn myself (the chicken is buried and cooks in sizzling rock salt). While this chicken is much easier to prepare, it does involve wait time and a special ingredient called Sichuan pepper. Despite its name, this spice is not related to black pepper or chili pepper. It's actually the husk from seeds of a shrub called the Prickly Ash. Sichuan pepper has a unique aroma and flavor that is not hot or pungent; it has a lemony overtone that creates a tingly numbness on the tip of the tongue. The Chinese call this sensation "ma la" which means numbing and spicy. Sichuan peppercorns also have a romantically checkered past. Within China they were used as tribute. Elsewhere, import embargoes caused them to become the object of illegal trafficking. It's now perfectly legal to buy the peppercorns and you find them in Chinese markets and in the catalogues of spice purveyors (i.e. Penzy's). I start this recipe 24 hours before I plan to cook it. Let me walk you through the steps.
Salt Roasted Chicken
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorn
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
2 to 3 teaspoons teaspoons fennel seeds
1 3-1/2 pound chicken
2 tablespoons minced ginger
3 tablespoon mirin or other rice wine
2 tablespoons butter or oil
1) Place peppercorns, salt and fennel seeds in a small frying pan. Toast over low heat until mixture is fragrant and salt turns a light brown. Remove from heat. Cool. Pulverize in a spice grinder. Set aside.
2) Wash chicken and pat dry. Liberally rub surface and cavity of chicken with spice mixture. Place in a large bowl. Refrigerate for 1 hour. Combine ginger and rice wine in a small bowl. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve. Pour liquid over chicken. Place ginger in chicken cavity. Tie legs. Cover chicken and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours, turning occasionally.
3) Bring chicken to room temperature. If using a convection oven, preheat to 400 degrees F. If using a conventional oven, preheat to 425 degrees F. Place chicken in a roasting pan, breast side down. Brush side of chicken facing you with 1 tablespoon butter. Roast for 30 minutes. Turn bird, brush top side of chicken with reserved tablespoon butter. Cook for 20 minutes longer or until thickest part of thigh registers 175 degrees F on a meat thermometer. Remove to a serving plate. Tent with foil. Let rest 15 minutes before carving. Yield: 4 to 5 servings.