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How to cook a perfect salt-crust fish

Source: courtesy of Paola Bacchia

From Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy's Adriatic Coast by Paola Bacchia.

Paola Bacchia's note from Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy's Adriatic Coast.

 

Burying a whole fish in salt is both simple and slightly nerve-wracking. The technique has been used for centuries and basically allows the fish to steam within its salty case, imparting a delicate seasoning to the flesh. The traditional way is to only use coarse salt, but I’m afraid I am not willing to risk a dreaded crack appearing as the fish cooks, which could potentially dry out the moist flesh. I add egg whites to help bind the salt casing. When the fish is cooked, there is nothing quite as dramatic as taking to the hard crust with a small mallet to make it crack, particularly if you have an audience.

Ask your fishmonger to clean the cavity of the fish but leave the scales intact; this will allow the salt crust to separate more easily from the skin once it is cooked. Make sure the fish is as close as possible to the recommended weight as otherwise you will need to adjust the cooking time. This dish is even better served with a side of smashed potatoes and greens and a little flat-leaf parsley sauce.

 

 

Salt-crust fish

Pesce in crosta di sale

 

SERVES 4

1 x 1.2 kg (2 lb 10 oz) whole fish (snapper or sea bream)

½ lemon, cut into thick slices

a few flat-leaf parsley and dill sprigs, plus extra to serve

1.5 kg (3 lb 5 oz) coarse sea salt

5 egg whites

1 kg (2 lb 3 oz) fine sea salt

juice of 1–2 lemons

 

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and line a baking tray with baking paper, if you like.

Wash the fish and pat dry. Stuff the cavity with the lemon slices and herbs.

Place the coarse salt and egg whites in a food processor and whiz until it comes together. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the fine salt and mix well.

another tasty treat from paola bacchia

Place a 1 cm (½ in) thick layer of the salt mixture on the prepared tray in the approximate shape of the fish. Lay the fish on top and cover with the rest of the salt mixture, packing it against the fish. It is important that the fish is completely sealed within the crust.

Bake for 35 minutes (the rule of thumb is 30 minutes for every 1 kilogram/2 lb 3 oz of fish). Remove from the oven immediately and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Crack open the crust and remove the skin. Drizzle over the lemon juice and scatter with extra parsley and dill to serve.

 

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