Tanna Chicken


  • 1 free-range Vanuatu chook (about 1.6kg)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2cm knob ginger, grated
  • 6 small red or green chillies
  • 6 cloves
  • 2 tbs sweet soy sauce
  • 1 tbs chilli sauce
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 bunch spinach, roots trimmed and discarded, washed well and torn
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 4-5 large unbroken banana leaves
  • Olive oil, for greasing

Sand casing

  • 2kg sand
  • 1kg fine salt
  • 12 egg whites

Mum’s cucumber salad

  • 1 telegraph cucumber
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ¼ onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tbs caster sugar
  • 60ml (¼ cup) malt vinegar

  1. Preheat the oven to 250C.
  2. Trim the chicken and ensure that the skin is covering the breasts.
  3. Grind the garlic, ginger, chilli and cloves in a mortar and pestle until a smooth paste forms.
  4. Rub the paste all over the chicken, inside and out.
  5. Combine the sweet soy sauce and chilli sauce together and rub it all over the chicken.
  6. Stuff the chicken with the spinach, then squeeze the lime over the skin and season well.
  7. To wrap the chicken, soften the banana leaves by running them over a flame for about 30 seconds or until they go oily. 
  8. Place 2 banana leaves on a bench in a star pattern and lightly oil them.
  9. Place the chicken, breast-side down, on the leaves and wrap it so both leaves cover the bird evenly. If necessary, use another leaf. Tie it well with butchers twine and set aside.
  10. To make the sand casing, mix all the ingredients in a large bowl until you get a sloppy paste.
  11. Place another 2 banana leaves on your bench in a star pattern and place ½ of the sand mixture on it.
  12. Place the chicken, breast-side up, on the paste and put the rest of the paste on top.
  13. Ensure the entire chicken parcel is coated evenly with the sand and then wrap it up the same way as the first wrapping and secure with butchers twine.
  14. Place the parcel on an oven tray and bake for 1½ hours.
  15. Start preparing the cucumber salad half an hour before the chicken is ready.
  16. Peel the cucumber into long thins ribbons into a bowl, until you reach the core.
  17. Place the garlic and a large pinch of salt in a mortar and pestle and grind until a paste forms.
  18. Add to the cucumber, toss to combine and set aside for 30 minutes.
  19. Add the remaining ingredients and toss to combine.
  20. When the chicken is ready, remove the banana leaves and you should have a hard rock.
  21. Remove from the oven and stand for 5 minutes.

    To serve, either take the rock to the table and break it open with a hammer, or crack the rock in the kitchen and then unwrap the chicken from its second covering of banana leaves. Serve the chicken and any juices with the cucumber salad.

Ka hiahia pea koe ki

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