Some things in life need to be enjoyed in their simplest form. Fish baked in a salt crust is a perfect example of this. It's stupidly simple but absolutely brilliant. The salt encloses the fish completely, flavoring the fish and sealing in the moisture, making the flesh succulent.
I have pretty strong opinions about fish. With a few rare exceptions (certain fish curries), I am a fish purist and generally believe it should be enjoyed whole when possible (bones, skin, head) and with the least amount of interference from other flavors. While I know some people generally don't like coming face to face with the animal they're eating and specifically when they're eating it, stripping a fish down to an opaque block slathered in sauce just seems like a travesty to me.
In Italy's coastal areas, fresh whole fish is often baked in a salt crust. It is usually baked with little to no aromatics inside the fish and covered with a salt crust, which is then broken open revealing the plump flesh. The fish is taken apart and served with a simple drizzle of fragrant extra virgin olive oil and wedge of lemon, both simply showcase the essence of the fish. Once you have fish this way you'll understand why unadorned fish is a revelation. Served in typical family style, this fish is dazzling, especially when whacked open with a hammer.
Again, due to the simplicity of this dish, the best ingredients you can get are a must! Go to a trusted source for your fish (I generally use Asian markets as their fish is the freshest I can find). And if you're not sure, get up close and sniff the fish and it should smell briny like the sea but not like a nasty pier.
- 1 2 pound snapper, scaled and cleaned
- 3 egg whites
- 2-3 pounds of course sea salt or kosher salt (if you buy a larger fish, the measurement is generally 1 pound of salt for 1 pound of fish)
- lemon wedges
- good quality extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. In a large bowl, mix the salt with your egg whites so they are all incorporated. Place about 1/3 of the salt mixture on a baking sheet and place the fish on top. Pile on the salt over so it covers the fish entirely and using your hands gently pack the salt on.
Lower the heat to 400 degrees and bake the fish for about 20 minutes. Your timing may vary depending on how large your fish is. The general rule of thumb is 10 minutes for each inch at the fish's thickest part.
When your fish is done, crack open the salt crust and brush off excess salt with a brush. Fillet the fish and serve with some lemon and drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and enjoy!
Recipe adapted from Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Italian Recipes to Cook at Home
(Second image from here and rest from Globetrotter Diaries)