Know what’s good? Fancy people embracing basic stuff. Like every time a shitty wine wins some prestigious competition, people love it. Or when a guy named Alexander McQueen emerged from the chav flats of London to became head of Givenchy, people loved it. Or when Happy Gilmore triumphed over Shooter McGavin to take home the golden jacket… those moments remind us that dreams can come true. Underdogs can become kings. Life is permeable for everyone, just so long as they’re true and rightful believers.
And know what else is good? Chicken salt. Like, it’s not gourmet good, but it does have a certain nostalgic appeal. Chicken salt was always there at the roadhouse and the beach house. It was there during summer dinners with a sweaty box perched on your knees crossed over hot cement. It came from that middle drawer jammed with takeaway menus, and frosted up your fingers while the sky turned pink. It was basic, but magic.
Which got us wondering: could you elevate this basic but evocative foodstuff to become something fancy? Something gourmet? So we asked some well-renowned foodies to invent stuff with chicken salt, and they agreed, and we spent a day driving around Melbourne tasting what they’d come up with.
1# Ben Pollard from the Builders Arms made a chicken salted creme caramel
Ben Pollard is a pretty serious guy. He’s the creative development group head chef at Andrew McConnell Restaurants, which means that a bunch of Melbourne’s top restaurants are basically outlets for Ben's creations. He’s also serious in the sense that when I asked him about what creme caramel tastes like with chicken salt, he tilted his head thoughtfully and said "it's really interesting.” Not disgusting or weird, but interesting. “You’ll see what I mean,” he said, grinning a secret smile.
We watched Ben stir the salt into the caramel, and combo with the creme, which was also infused with the fleshy zap of chicken salt.
And Ben was right. When I first tried the creme caramel it tasted sweet and perfect. I was thinking it was just a high-precision example of a classic desert, but then it fanned out in my mouth and got all weird and.... interesting. So I went back for another scoop and it was another two seconds of sweet cream, curtailed by a bolt of chicken-rich umami. So then I stopped eating and frowned.
Hey! If you’re liking this chicken salt article, you’re gonna love this chicken salt video, staring our investigative reporter Gocsy:
And now, back to the article:
2# Ben Pollard also made us a cheese toasty with chicken salt and truffle paste
This was so much better. An American cheese inlay lightly coated in truffle paste and misted with chicken salt, bookended by pillowy brioche.
The chicken salt was right at home in this indulgent little sandwich, and seemed to really gel with the truffle. Or maybe it was just that truffles are expensive, which makes them good. Whatever the case, this was the leading contender for the day.
3# Nate White from Bluebonnet made us some kind of chicken salt cocktail
Close your eyes. Think about dry vermouth and Patrón Silver. Get that image of Graham Greene-era Mexico in your mind: driving gloves and revolvers; waxed moustaches and dusty boots. And now superimpose a few truck stop bain maries across that vista of banana palms. Innovative, isn’t it? Innovative and refreshing.
Nate told us he was a bit hungover when he created this, so it comes with a healthy splash of chicken salt-infused olive brine, garnished with a strip of crispy chicken skin. The whole thing worked surprisingly well, and basically just tasted like a tequila martini, but again with that undercurrent of chook. Mainly it was nice to get a buzz going while testing prototype foods.
#4 Casey Wall from Capitano made us a carbonara with homemade chicken salt spaghetti
Capitano gets described as a bit Italo-disco. It’s like a spoof on what an Italian restaurant should look like—stylish, but with a humorous undertone. And Casey managed to continue that irreverently high quality vibe with this made-from-scratch pasta. He used chicken salt in the spaghetti, and then in strips of peppered chicken skin laid over the top. “I’m not sure what this’ll taste like,” he said plating it up. “It might surprise you to know I’ve never made it before.”
It tasted pretty great, and was another example of chicken salt cooperating with other ingredients, rather than just doing its own thing. The dish was rich and creamy, but not in the slightest bit claggy. Also we paired it with a natural wine, as recommended by Banjo from Bar Liberty. Here’s what Banjo said:
This dish is rich, fatty, and salty. What it certainly doesn’t need is the tannin or alcohol of a red wine, but instead the savouriness and freshness of a medium bodied white. Le Coste Litrozzo Bianco fits just the bill. It's a blend of local Roman varieties Procanico, Roscetto, Romanesco and Petino, blended with some Malvasia. No skin contact, but it’s loaded with flavours of sour lemon and electric acidity. Salute!
#5 Ben Pollard from Supernormal made us a soft serve loaded with chicken salt crisps
You might remember Ben Pollard from such sections of this article as the top section, and that’s because he’s head chef of nearly everywhere. So we popped over to Supernormal for dessert, and Ben knocked up a classic soft serve sprinkled with "typhoon shelter" crumbs, which he explained are a garnish used in Hong Kong made from chilli, fried garlic, bread crumbs, and in this case, chicken salt. He also used a piece of chicken skin lathered in chicken salt as a garnish.
I got to say, the chicken salt did that weird time-delay thing again with the sugar. So I managed to kind of eat around it and just enjoy the ice cream, but let’s be real here for a moment. Chicken salt is exclusively eaten with chips because it’s not that very good on anything else, except maybe the cheese toasty or the pasta. And it’s definitely rubbish in anything sweet. So I stopped eating the ice cream and drank about 17 litres of water because fuck me what a day.
All photos by Roberto Pettinau