Sichuan salt baked poussin
Overnight hanging is useful in order to dry out the skin a much as possible so that it crisps up beautifully in its salty crust. I looped some string a couple times around each bird’s wings and hung them from our clothes rail. They were just high enough to be out of reach of our hungry cats, but low enough to give my husband a fright when he came home from work. If you are short on time you could position a fan on a low setting in front of the birds to help speed up the drying process.
6 small poussins
3 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
3 tsp black peppercorns
3 tbsp Shaoxing wine, or white wine/dry sherry
3kg coarse rock salt
4 tbsp ginger or even better young galangal, grated
6 tbsp spring onions, white and pale green parts only, finely minced
4 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp groundnut or rapeseed oil
What you need
Spice grinder or mortar and pestle
What to do
Combine the Sichuan and black peppercorns in a dry frying pan together over a low flame. Keep an eye on the pan and shake it occasionally. Make sure the spices don’t burn. Gently toast the peppercorns until they give off a lovely aroma, then remove from the heat and pulverise in a spice grinder or using a pestle and mortar.
Wash the poussins, check for leftover feathers, trim off any fat around the cavity and pat dry with kitchen paper. Rub each bird with the wine and then sparingly with the peppercorn powder. Hang the birds up in a cool dry place overnight.
Preheat the oven to 230°C/450°F. Place half the salt into the bottom of a large, high sided roasting tray. Position the poussins so they are not touching and completely cover each with the remaining salt. Bake for 40 minutes.
Make the dipping sauce. Mix the ginger or galangal, spring onions and salt together in a heatproof bowl. Heat the groundnut oil in a small saucepan or metal ladle over a flame until the it starts to smoke. Immediately pour the oil over the ginger mixture – it will sizzle and smell delicious. Give the sauce a good stir and then allow to cool to room temperature.
Take the poussins out of the oven and gently extract one from its salty crust. Stick a skewer into the thickest part of its leg and press a spoon against the meat until juices run out. They should be clear but if they are pink or red return the birds to the oven for a few minutes more. Rest the birds for 10 minutes on a carving board. Make sure you dust off any remaining clumps of rock salt.
To serve, pull off the legs and use a sharp knife to take off the two breasts. Slice into bite sized morsels. Dunk the poussin pieces in lots of gingery, oniony sauce and eat while the skin is still salty and crisp.