The leisure of summer has left us, but the urge to bury things in sand lingers. That thought brought me to salt-crusted baking, a technique that never ceases to impress.
Salt-crusted baking is a relatively simple cooking technique that can be applied to a variety of proteins and starches.
My favorites have always been potatoes, duck breasts and, of course, seafood. Cooking a whole fish, with the head and bones intact, is a beautiful presentation that brings intense flavor to the meat, just as occurs with a bone-in steak. A mixture of salt and egg whites creates a sand-like paste that you spread under and over a whole fish, creating a shell. The shell keeps all the moisture of the fish in and all the hot air from the oven out. The result is moist, tender and extremely flavorful fish.
Although salt-crusted baking is a simple and straightforward process, the variations are practically limitless. Aromatics are essential to this dish, so try incorporating various fresh herbs, fennel, leeks, coriander, anise or, my personal favorite, infused salts. It takes a good amount of salt to cover the whole fish, so purchasing infused sea salt may be out of your budget. However, you can easily create your own infused salts by heating the kosher salt in the recipe below with the herb of your choice in a large sauté pan over medium heat for 10 minutes. Then transfer to a bowl and let cool for 5 minutes. Cover and let sit for at least 24 hours.
The process of cooking a whole fish can seem daunting, but your fish monger will do all the hard work for you. Simply ask him (or her) what’s fresh and to clean the fish for you. All you have todo is season, encrust, bake and enjoy.
Serves | 6 to 8 |
- 1 5-lb whole salmon, cleaned and scaled (also try black bass or snapper)
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced
- 6 sprigs thyme
- 6 egg whites
- 3 cups kosher salt
- lemon wedges and extra-virgin olive oil for garnish
| Preparation | Preheat the oven to 400°F. Place the fish on a clean surface and pat dry with paper towels. Insert lemon slices and thyme sprigs into the fish's cavity and set the fish aside until needed. Using an electric stand mixer, beat the egg whites until they reach a firm peak.
Gently fold in the kosher salt.
Spread some of the salt mixture on the bottom of a baking sheet or other oven-proof container large enough to accommodate the whole fish. Gently place the fish on top of the salt mixture. Spread the remaining mixture over the fish, patting it down to create a consistent seal. It isn’t necessary to cover the head or the tail, but you can if you want.
Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and crack the salt crust with a spoon or knife. Gently remove the crust, taking care not to allow the salt to reach the flesh. Cut the fish into portions and serve with lemon wedges and extra-virgin olive oil.
Chef Cassandra Vires received her culinary training in Houston, Texas, and has a knack for reimagining classic dishes. Her new restaurant,
Home Wine Kitchen, opened recently in Maplewood.