Beggar’s Chicken and…Just a Little Taste

In some parts of South America, guinea pigs are eaten and are considered a fabulous meal.  But not in my part of the world.

Although that’s not entirely true.

Beggar’s Chicken

When I was a wee wisp of a thing we had cousins who kept 12 guinea pigs.  One Christmas holiday they were heading north to Taupo for their family vacation and before setting off in the Kingswood they dropped off all 12 guinea pigs including Lucky 13.  Lucky 13 was Marmaduke, a two-toned ginger and white prize-winning guinea pig whose proud owners had dropped him off at my cousins’ house for minding.

Chicken washed, dried, rubbed with soy sauce and oil

My sisters and I were all so excited about our new ‘toys’ and spent countless hours out in the backyard handling them and feeding them and cleaning their enormous hutch, all under the eye of disapproving Sophie.

Sophie was our dog that had been the centre of my world until the day the guinea pigs arrived.  I sort of forgot about her and threw myself with great enthusiasm and passion into the care of these guinea pigs that were all my new best friends.

Then one day I went out to play with my new best friends and noticed they were all huddled into a back corner of the hutch and upon closer inspection, Lucky 13, the prize-winning guinea pig whose owners had left him in the loving care of my cousins who had then recklessly forwarded him on to a family of novices, was missing.

The door of the hutch had been opened and Marmaduke taken.  It was a tense moment.

Wrapping the chicken in the dough

I searched the backyard and called him by name but there was no answer.  Then I saw something lying in a clump of clover and it was Marmaduke.  Dead.  Savaged.  Almost bitten in two.  Who was the culprit?  A guilty look from Sophie and a few ginger clumps of fur between her paws said it all.  She hadn’t eaten much of him.  Just had a little taste.  A bit like a great white having ‘a taste’ of your leg.  The only thing is, a little taste is often fatal.

But I don’t think Sophie was innocently ‘having a little taste’.  This was an act of spite as the over-indulged and totally spoilt-rotten pet found herself usurped by a bunch of tiny, harmless, furry little play-things.

It was ‘Just a Little Taste’

Marmaduke was buried behind the incinerator at the back of the backyard.  We broke the news to our cousins.  They had to break the news to the proud owners of Lucky 13.  No more prizes for him!

And what to do about Sophie.  Well…Like Moses who murdered the Egyptian and King David who murdered Bathsheba’s husband, Sophie too was restored!

Have you ever had to forgive your pet of a mighty sin?

Ready now for four hours in the oven

I don’t know why I think of Beggar’s Chicken when I think of those guinea pigs but here is a recipe that you need to start early because it takes four hours to cook.  Just put it in the oven in the afternoon and then you have the next four hours to play with your dog or your guinea pig – just don’t let them play together!

Beggar’s Chicken

Serves: 4

Degree of Difficulty: 3/5 because covering the chicken in the clay dough is a bit tricky

Cost:  This is an economical family meal

1.5kg (3lb) chicken

3 shallots

2.5cm (1in) piece of green ginger

1 tsp sugar

3 tbspns soy sauce – for gluten free use a wheat-free soy sauce

2 tbspns dry sherry or shaoxing wine

1 tbspn water

1/4 tsp five spice powder

2 tbspns soy sauce, extra – for gluten free use a wheat-free soy sauce

2 tbspns oil

extra oil

Cracking open the clay dough – it’s as tough as cement!

Clay Dough

1kg (2lb) cooking salt

4 cups plain flour

1 1/2 cups water, approx.

Place unsifted flour and salt into bowl; mix well.  Gradually mix in water, mixing to a firm dough.  Use hands to mix dough:  a little extra water may be needed.  Do not have dough too soft or it will be hard to handle.

Place two very large sheets of aluminium foil on to table, brush top sheet of foil well with extra oil.  (I place baking paper on top of the foil so the chicken is wrapped first in baking paper, then foil).  Place chicken in middle of foil.  Place roughly chopped shallots, sugar, peeled and sliced ginger, soy sauce, sherry, water and five spice powder into bowl; mix well.  Rub chicken all over with extra soy sauce, then rub with the 2 tbspns of oil, rubbing well into skin.  Pull skin at neck end down under chicken, tuck wing tips under chicken and over neck skin.  Carefully pour soy sauce mixture into chicken cavity, holding chicken up slightly so that no sauce runs out.  Secure end of chicken with small skewer.  Wrap foil around chicken, securing like a parcel.

Roll out dough to approximately 1cm (1/2 in) in thickness, so that it will completely encases chicken.  Fold dough over chicken, pressing edges together; press ends together.

Place chicken into lightly oiled baking dish.  With wet fingers, smooth out all joins, making sure that there are no holes in pastry, or steam will escape.  Bake in hot oven (200-230°C, 400-450°F) for 1 hour.  Reduce heat to moderately slow, (160-180°C, 325-350°F) cook further 3 hours.  Remove chicken from oven, break open pastry clay with mallet or hammer, remove from around chicken.  Lift foil-wrapped chicken  on to serving plate, carefully remove foil.

Serve with rice and steamed Asian greens.

A wonderful family meal

Recipe is from The Australian Women’s Weekly Cooking Class Cookbook – an oldie but a goodie.




  1. Oh no Sophie! I suppose it’s like sharks that are curious and just having a taste-although like guinea pigs and humans just having a taste isn’t just having a taste! Love this chicken I’ve made something similar salt baking a chicken directly on the skin and it’s fun breaking it open!

    And I was holding my breath for the first couple of paragraphs. I thought you were going to tell us that you baked the guinea pig! 😛

  2. I’ve tried guinea pig – tastes like chicken. At a loss to explain the taste of chicken though.

  3. I told a 10 year old girl once that they eat guinea pigs in South America, (she had one as a pet.) She cried, and didn’t speak to me for 3 days… I wonder what they taste like.

  4. Oh no!!! What a terrible story! Poor Sophie as well, I’m sure she just wanted some attention…I almost thought you were making a guinea pig dish….lol I don’t think I’d want to eat it since…they are way too cute! 😛

  5. I made this dish, from the same recipe, a lifetime ago! It was one of my great food memories – it’s so nice to see it here on your blog, Charlie. Although I found it difficult as I was reading your story not to imagine a guinea pig wrapped up in foil going under the salt dough.. 😉

    We had guinea pigs as children, and frankly they were the worst pets ever. The two females turned out to be a male and a female, then they had babies, and then the male ate them. My parents had two traumatised young daughters.. 🙂

  6. My daughter begs constantly for a Guinea pig, but we refuse due to our prior commitment to a boofy German Shepherd. I’m sure he wouldn’t MEAN to hurt it, as you say, just tasting…… We had a dog who ate our bunny rabbits and it gave me bad dreams for years, I’m just trying to save her the pain.
    Thankyou for dredging up that painful memory Charlie, it will probably take at least two servings of this lovely recipe and meal to take my mind off it 🙂

  7. Oh dear! It looks like Sophie was a daschund? It’s a natural instinct for them! We have guinea pigs, and my daughter is devastated when one dies. The last few were eaten by a carpet snake. So sad.
    I could never eat one, but I can’t eat rabbit either!

  8. I’ve actually had Beggar’s chicken in San Francisco at Betelnut Restaurant. And I got to wield the hammer to crack it open. They do theirs in gray clay. But your dough version is much easier for home kitchens. It looks phenomenal!

  9. I have never cooked chicken like that. This look so wonderful. It must keep the chicken moist and juicy, as all the flavors get locked in. YUM!!!

  10. Oh, poor Marmaduke. I have a rabbit, so he isn’t have a fatal taste of anybody, but… He used to be able to tell between adults and children and be much more tolerant with the children. He lost his eyesight in the last year, and I am not sure if this is the reason, but he loses his temper with children much quicker now. We took him to the playground (on the way back from the vet) and he bit a little girl, I didn’t see it coming at all.

  11. Poor Marmaduke and poor Sophie! I think dogs forget their strength sometimes.

    Your beggars chicken looks so fabulous and moist. I can imagine the clay dough keeps it wonderfully moist. I saw Daniel Boulud make a clay salmon on Masterchef and thought it was a great technique.

  12. My house has always been on the frontline between species. Birds, cats, dogs, guinea pig, marine fish. Leave them alone for long and there was sure to be fur, feathers, or water flying. Now, happily, it’s just a dog & parrot. They don’t get along but there are bars separating them, an arrangement sure to continue for some time. I am definitely going to try this recipe, just for the Wow Factor, if nothing else, but I bet it results in one moist and tasty chicken! Thanks for sharing!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Yes, we should have been more like you and had some steel reinforcing on that hutch. As the saying goes, ‘Good fences make good neighbours’! The chicken is VERY moist and the meat really soft. It’s a great recipe. Sadly it was devoured all too quickly. Let me know how you go.

  13. My son and his girlfriend have a guinea pig named Mozzarella…

    This recipe is inspiring me to do more than I have managed lately. Very nice indeed. Thanks for sharing–nice story as well.

  14. I loved your story, I guess that’s the way things go. I am sure Sophie didn’t like having the guinea pigs around taking everybodies attention away from her. She was just protecting her domain.
    This recipe is amazing. I does sound like a lot work, but I am sure it is worth it.

  15. What an interesting method of preparation!

  16. Poor Marmaduke! That’s terrible! My mom hanged our cat… on accident in the garage door. she didn’t realize the cat was on top of the door and hit the button to let it down. Oops!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Oh that’s terrible. Your poor cat and your mother must have felt terrible. As a mother myself I don’t know how I’d go about explaining that to my kids. I have a friend who ran over her dog. She has three daughters and they were all very traumatised. Two replacement dogs were quickly purchased.

  17. what an interesting way of cooking it I’ve never hear about it but it seems to work, it looks delicious

  18. Oh dear. Loved your story. I once bought a pet guinea pig from a South American woman who bred them for food. I am not sure that I could eat one! The chicken looks so juicy.

    Are you on Twitter by the way?

  19. My goodness.. Poor Sophie (ok, poor mamaduke.. I hope it was quick).. dogs seem to be so human at times? I’m sure she felt a great deal of remorse for an animal instinct! Ahhh, we had guinea pigs, frogs (fed crickets, yuck), hamsters and a killer bunny… We’ve settled on Lucky (not 13, but 14 years old), he can be very stubborn and disobedient but on occasion allows us to pet him… if he gets the food he wants.

    He would love this chicken, so I shall have to make it and share. I think it’s so clever to have a “clay” pot of sorts that keeps all of the moisture in!

  20. I have never tried guinea pig at all.. and wouldn’t know what it taste like. I definitely need to try it.. but I do love your method for this dish

  21. Poor Marmaduke – but I can see Sophie’s perspective. This chicken looks devine!

  22. Poor puppy 🙁 she was just sending you a message…

    I have never made beggars chicken before but it looks so yummy. I must try it!

  23. Wow. This is unique and impressive way to cook chicken. Somehow I feel less manly for never having attempted it before. 😉

  24. I’ve not heard of this type of preparation before, but I am intrigued by it. Poor little pig, it must have been horrifying!

  25. I’ve heard of cooking this way but I’ve never tried it myself, only ever cooking fish and chicken in parchment paper. I’ve got a rather horrible story about a friend’s baby guinea pig, but to be honest I prefer to forget I ever saw it happen rather than force other people to picture it by retelling it!

    • hotlyspiced says:

      Oh no! It seems so many people have repressed memories re a shocking and traumatic experience with a guinea pig. Who knew!

  26. Oh Sophie!

  27. Oh! SO sad 🙁 the same thing happened to our guinea pigs, with the neighbour’s dog. Such an informative post to see how this crazy good meal is created. & love the last pic – stunning 🙂
    Heidi xo

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