10 small dried black mushrooms (such as shiitake or wood ear)
1/3 cup sliced canned water chestnuts
1/3 cup sliced canned bamboo shoots
5 or 6 slices Virginia ham
1 (3 pound) frying chicken
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon dry white wine
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Pinch of granulated sugar
1 pound ceramic clay powder (available in art supply stores)
Soak the mushrooms in hot water until tender, about 30 to 60 minutes. Drain, reserving liquid.
Heat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Remove and discard the stems from the mushrooms. Slice the mushroom caps, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots and ham into uniform pieces about 1 inch long and 1/4 inch wide. Combine in a bowl.
Rinse the chicken and pat it dry.
Mix the five-spice powder and salt in a small bowl. Mix 1 teaspoon of the five-spice/salt mixture (save the remainder of the spice mixture for another use) with the sesame oil, wine, soy sauce and sugar. If desired, add a little of the mushroom soaking liquid, spooning it off the top to avoid the sandy residue at the bottom. Rub the chicken inside and out with the seasoning mixture, tossing any leftover seasonings with the sliced vegetables and ham.
Stuff the chicken with the vegetable-ham mixture. Wrap the chicken in a piece of aluminum foil large enough to enclose it completely. Seal tightly and repeat with a second piece of foil. Then put the chicken in a clean brown paper bag; fold the edges in, and place the chicken, breast side up, on a cookie sheet.
Place the ceramic clay powder in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add small amounts of water to the powder, mixing thoroughly until the clay forms a stiff paste. With a spatula, spread the clay on the paper bag, encasing it completely in a smooth and even layer about 1/4 inch thick.
Place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake the chicken for 1 1/2 hours. Reduce the temperature to 300 degrees F and bake another 45 minutes.
Transfer the chicken to a metal serving dish. At the table, strike the clay with a mallet or hammer to crack it open, then unwrap the chicken. The meat should be falling off the bones. Serve each portion with some of the stuffing and juices.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Note: The clay washes off easily after soaking utensils in water.
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