Pesce al Sale (Fish Baked in Salt Crust) Recipe

by Karen on Friday, January 14, 2011

Post image for Pesce al Sale (Fish Baked in Salt Crust) Recipe

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.

Serves 2

– 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)



deana@lostpastremembered January 14, 2011 at 8:42 am

The photos are magical and so must the fish be… it is such a simple idea and locks the flavor in so well… can’t wait to try it!

Valerie January 14, 2011 at 9:40 am

This was one of my favorites, Karen! I can’t wait to make it for my family. Building the salt crust was so much fun but cracking it open was the best part… like opening a Christmas present! Can’t believe how delicious it was. MMM mmm mmm.

Belinda @zomppa January 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I am totally with you about salted crust – it keeps the moisture in any protein. Beautiful dish!

The Food Hound January 14, 2011 at 2:33 pm

I’ve never made anything in a salt crust, but I would love to try! I bet it would really pump up the delicate flavor of fish without overpowering it!

tasteofbeirut January 14, 2011 at 9:48 pm

I tried fish in a salt crust for the first time this summer in Beirut and loved it; I was wondering where I could possibly find the recipe, and here you are! Thanks mucho.

Karen January 15, 2011 at 9:26 am

O, glad I could help!

Karen January 15, 2011 at 9:25 am

Thanks everyone, I hope you try it soon– it really is a great way to cook fish!

rebecca January 15, 2011 at 2:19 pm

this looks amazing great post as ever love simple and flavorful recipe and whole fish yum

Bailey January 15, 2011 at 9:33 pm

OH.. huge fish eater here, esp blue skin fish, I’ve never baked the fish in salted crust yet, I’ve had it, but have not faced the challenge yet. The photos look super.

Ellie (Almost Bourdain) January 16, 2011 at 7:14 pm

Your fish looks sensational! I am imagine how tasty it is.

Susan January 18, 2011 at 11:21 am

I’ve never had fish prepared this way but I love the simple preparation and if it’s nearly as succulent as it looks it must taste wonderful! Great photos!

Renee @ January 22, 2011 at 3:30 pm

Your pictures are amazing. I was going to make this for my family for dinner tonight, but unfortunately, I know they are little unfamiliar and maybe thrown off by keeping the skin on the fish. If I was cooking for you, I’d be able to make it just right. Karen, do you have recipes that you recommend without the skin; I know that’s a travesty, but maybe there’s some sort of fish where it actually tastes better w/o?

Karen January 23, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Well you can definitely serve the fish without the skin. In fact, for this dish, I don’t really eat the skin. Just bake it and then filet and remove the skin… Thanks Ren!

Dmitri June 5, 2011 at 10:24 am

Just wanted to thank you for your simple and simply beautiful recipes. My wife is on vacation to Cyprus, so I’m on my own – and just im time for that I stumbled upon your blog. I’ve just cooked (15mins ago) my own version of “Fish Baked in Salt Crust” (it went nicely w/o lemon which I sadly forgot to buy…) and my usually picky 17 y.o. daughter liked it a lot – me too 🙂 And few days ago I treated her with those Chinese pancakes – they were wolfed down pretty fast, too 🙂 I took a picture and would post it to my blog.

My next target is hoddeok sugar pancake – I’ve just told my daughter about it while we were eating the fish, and by the way I recalled that my wife (we’re in Russia) used to cook simplified version – just sugar inside and no fancy pressing, but I do remember that “sugar napalm” coming down my throat!

I’ve subscribed to your blog and I’m positive I’ll be inspired with more coming recipes 🙂

Karen June 6, 2011 at 9:22 am

Hi Dmitri,
Thank you! I’m so glad to hear it turned out well- I think the salt crusted fish is one of my favorite ways to eat fish– pretty brilliant.
Please send me a link to the results, I’d love to see it and thank you again for the kind words, means a lot to us 🙂
PS. Enjoy your sugar napalm!

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