I had measles when I was four years old. Our neighbour, a black-and-white maid from Canton, was paid to look after us while my parents worked. One day while I was down with fever and measles, she was angry with me when she saw that the whole kitchen floor was wet. It had rained.
In those days, our one-room rental flat at Queen’s Crescent did not have windows. If it rained, either my sister or I had to lower plastic sheets to shield the house from the rain. I was too sick and weak to do so that day. So in her anger, she asked me to mop up the floor in the rain, with the plastic sheets not lowered to shield me.
As a result, I suffered a cough that did not go away for months, so my parents brought me to numerous Chinese physicians and Western doctors to find a cure, to no avail.
One day, while my mom was washing a black chicken in the market (she used to sell chicken in a wet market), a lady told her that the salt-baked black chicken could cure coughs, and taught her how to make it. And since then, I had a whole salt-baked black chicken every Thursday for years to myself. Coming from a poor family in a third world country then, it was a luxury indeed.
My cough did go away, and this recipe became our household treasure. My dad would make this for us when my sister and I delivered our babies, he made this whenever he wanted us to feel special.
To me, this dish speaks of my parents’ love for me. The way they brought me from doctor to doctor to find a cure for me, and how they insisted my grandma make the dish for me every Thursday when I stayed with her in Malaysia. Whenever I eat this, I feel stronger, warmer in winter and happier; it need not matter if it is just psychological.
They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. In this case, not only did that incident make me stronger, our family now have a great recipe that has passed down for three generations and for more than forty years. One that we gladly share with anyone with a prolonged cough.
Food, for our generation of Singaporeans, is not just about pleasing the palette or keeping healthy. It is also about healing. This is a tradition that I have kept for my family and my children.
Today, I spent 15 minutes getting everything into the 120ºC oven (I cheated and did not heat up the salt beforehand), and then went to watch my son play tennis. When we came home an hour and a half later, the chicken was cooked and waiting to be devoured.
You should really try this recipe, it never fails to satisfy.
1 small chicken (my dad used a whole chicken, I only use the thighs and wings as my chicken is bigger)
2 kg Coarse or Rock Salt
1/2 tsp Salt and 1/2 tsp freshly ground Pepper (baked at 120ºC oven for 10 minutes)
1/2 tsp Five-Spice powder
1 Tbsp Ginger Juice (pound and extract juice)
1 bunch of Green/Spring Onions
- Season the chicken with all the seasoning and leave for not more than an hour.
- Preheat the oven at 150ºC with a casserole with the rock salt in it. (My dad used a wok over low fire.)
- Drain the chicken and wrap it in a large piece of parchment paper.
- Take some of the rock salt out of the casserole, and bury the chicken into the salt. Replace the salt.
- Cover the pot and cook at 120ºC – 150ºC, depending on how much time you have. The lower the temperature, the more tender the chicken will be. It takes about 1.5 hours to cook the chicken at 120ºC.
- Serve hot with steamed rice.