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Water and Salt

Chinese Salt Roasted Chicken

Cultural Perspectives

By Tim Hazell

Since the rise of agrarian settlements, water has been an elite commodity throughout the world’s arid regions. Rivers and seas have inspired our oldest love poetry, dating from the time of New Kingdom Egypt (1550 – 1070 B.C.).

Most of Egypt’s romantic verse comes from Deir el-Medina, a village of skilled artisans who worked on valley tombs. In “The Crossing,” water provided the elixir for courtship. In the text,  “brother” is used as a term of endearment.
I would love to bathe in front of you
so you could see how nice I look
in my tunic of royal linen,
shining with oil,
my hair plaited with reeds.
I’ll go down to the water
and catch a red fish
that just fits in my hand.
I offer it to you
while you admire my beauty
O my brother, please see me!

River deltas served as places for worship. Natural science attempted to unravel enigmas of natural phenomena such as tides and floods. Strategies to harness the potential of water engendered the first complex machines.
Ocean inhabitants play interactive roles. Mollusks and crustaceans take in calcium for building shells and exoskeletons. Silica is crucial to plankton. Waste products and cellular energy from glucose maintain vast ecosystems and microcosms such as tidal pools, harboring species adapted to miniature water worlds.
This “why-the-sea-is-salty” story from the Philippines alludes to the initial blandness of seawater and how the villagers needed salt to liven up their recipes. Their boats were guided to the cave of a benevolent giant who gave them some from his private hoard. Soon it was perking up culinary traditions. “One day, rough seas prevented a return to restock supplies. Village elders asked the giant to stretch out his legs, forming a bridge that townsfolk could cross to refill their empty sacks. As they returned however, the giant became so bothered by attacks from red ants that he dipped his itching feet into the water. All the laboriously packed salt fell in, transforming the sea into the saline deeps we know today.”

A Chinese cook will “roast” meat by burying it in salt, since home kitchens have no ovens.

In this recipe, the chicken is succulent and not at all salty, thanks to the cheesecloth!

Salt-Roasted Chicken
1 roasting chicken
5 lbs. coarse pickling salt

Remove the fat from the chicken cavity. Rinse and dry thoroughly inside and out. Wrap in a layer of cheesecloth with the overlap on top for easy removal. Heat the salt in a wok or large pot until very hot. Turn off heat, pour half the salt into a bowl and place the chicken on the salt in the pot. Cover with the reserved salt. Set the pot, covered, over medium heat for three minutes. Adjust heat to low and “roast” the chicken for two hours. When done, remove the chicken from the salt. Unwrap the cheesecloth. Serve with a dipping sauce, rice and stir-fried vegetables.

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