With a recent trip to the farmer’s market nearing an end, I found myself yet again lingering in the fish monger’s section eyeing some fresh Branzino with longing. For some, fish can be a daunting task, what with their delicate nature, the relatively high cost, and the work that can be required to enjoy them. So, I reviewed my techniques to remember the easiest way to cook a whole fish and retain a their subtle flesh so I could reasonably justify the purchase. It was then I remembered salt-baked fish.
Nothing could be easier then placing a whole fish in the oven and waiting for it to cook. This technique of creating a encapsulated salt dome (think salt igloo) was created in an effort to steam the fish in it’s own juices thus creating a moist, flavorful flesh while it roasts in the oven. With nothing but salt, egg whites, and water, this crust holds it’s shape such that a few smacks with the back of a large spoon are needed to crack it open. Once you do, the aroma of fish, citrus, and herbs fill the nose as this is a table stopper is placed in front of your crew or family.
A few after the fire critiques: I went with Branzino here, but any white flesh fish with tick skin will do. Think bass, red snapper, monkfish, etc., but whatever you chose, ensure your fishmonger removes all the scales for you! I went with lemon and rosemary but feel free to use any complimentary citrus and herbs. Finally, I suggest the use of parchment paper to place under the fish and salt to use as a carry all to move the fish to a cutting board or table.
White Flesh Fish (2-4 lbs)
Salt (Kosher, 3 lbs. box)
Eggs (4, whites only)
Lemon (1, thinly sliced)
Rosemary (2 sprigs, bruised)
Pepper and Salt
Pre-heat the oven to 450°F.
Prepare your fish by rinsing it under cold running water then pat dry. Score the skin every 1” from the gills to the tail. Insert the lemon slices and rosemary into the cavity and reserve.
Place the salt, egg whites, and ½ cup of water into a large bowl and mix until it resembles wet sand.
On the baking sheet, place a piece of parchment paper enough to hang over the sides by 2 inches to create a carryall. Place ½ inch layer of salt to create a bed, place the fish so as to fit comfortably across the baking sheet, cover with salt, and using the backside of a spoon or your hand, shape the salt dome to cover the fish. Place in the center of the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes or until the internal temperature of the fish registers 130°F. Transfer the fish to a cutting board or table, remove the skin and either fillet or lump the flesh being careful to avoid the fish’s small pin bones. Indulge!