Whole Fish Baked in Salt Crust
We’ve all either had or heard of fish baked in a salt crust; it’s one of the oldest techniques of cooking fish (as well as chicken, red meat and vegetables) that seals in the juices and yields moist, succulent fish that bursts with pure fish flavor, and only that!!
But how often do we bake fish that way? We’ve largely abandoned this method in favor of marinades (We love marinades, of course. They’re here to stay!) and have gotten accustomed to the flavorless convenience of foil. The last time for me dates to at least twenty years ago in my mom’s highly experimental kitchen, but I have never forgotten how good it was.
The technique may look laborious but it’s actually a snap. It consists of making a bed of salt for the fish, covering it with a blanket of salt then popping it in the oven and waiting for the timer to signal that the self-created masterpiece is ready.
Now let the show begin… One of the best parts of eating this fish is serving it with the hard golden crust on and cracking it open in front of everybody. They will love how a mundane dinner was turned into a memorable experience, a piece of theatre. Luckily a few restaurants out there such as this one and this one still serve it that way.
The customary way of opening the salt shell is cracking it with a knife or spoon and removing the crust in pieces. I did it that way the first time, and while it worked well it was quite messy and the crust pieces flew all over the place. The next time I made it, my clever engineer husband gently cut through the crust along one side of the fish with a butter knife and lifted the entire salt blanket in one piece. It was mess-free!
To remove the skin, gently insert a butter knife underneath and push it down toward the tail. It slides through effortlessly leaving the beautiful, moist flesh of the fish exposed and ready to fillet.
SALT-CRUSTED FISH RECIPE
Yield: 2 to 3 servings
Prep Time: 10 MIN
Cook Time: 35 to 45 MIN
For the choice of fish, you can pick any whole fish that you like. Go to your fish monger and ask for the freshest they have. That's what I did. The first time I ended up with a sea bream, the second time with a red snapper. Both worked well, though I have to say I preferred the milder taste of the bream to the fishiness of the red snapper for this. But that's merely a question of taste.
I prefer the salt mixture plain but you can season it with your favorite fresh or dried herbs, if you wish.
4 egg whites
5 cups coarse kosher salt
1.5- to 2-pound whole fish, gutted and cleaned by fishmonger (preferably with scales on)
1 lemon or lime, cut into slices
Preheat the oven to 420 degrees Fahrenheit.
In a large glass bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy. Slowly stir in the salt, one cup at a time, until it appears sandy and moistened.
Line a shallow baking pan with aluminum foil. Make a bed of salt mixture, approximately the shape and size of your fish (minus the head and tail). Place the fish on top of it. Place the lemon or lime slices inside the fish. Cover the fish with the rest of the salt mixture, leaving the head and tail exposed. Press down on the salt with your hands to seal the fish.
Bake the fish until the crust is hard and golden, 35 to 45 minutes. Take out of the oven and let cool 5 minutes.
Gently cut through the crust along one side of the fish with a butter knife and lift the entire salt blanket in one piece. To remove the skin, gently insert a butter knife underneath and push it down toward the tail. Divide the flesh among 2 to 3 serving plates.
Serve the fish with herbed mayonnaise or tartar sauce and a side salad or vegetables.