One evening in Barcelona about 1983, my good friend Juan Antonio took me to a small, dimly lit restaurant in some small barrio. It was mysterious and seemed at the time, slightly dangerous. In my mind, it was Walpurgis Night but that is a German holiday. False memory but correct feeling. It turned out to be All Saints Day, Nov. 1, Todo Los Santos. Flaming drinks (could that have been Sambuca with coffee beans??), candles, hushed voices. All I remember was the salt encrusted fish on a platter, dramatically brought by the waiter who ceremoniously cracked the baked salt crust open at the table and expertly deboned the fish. It was probably branzino, my all-time favorite white fish. Drizzled with fruity olive oil and a little lemon, it was the most sublime fish I had ever eaten.
This is the easiest recipe but has a dramatic reveal at the table! Let’s waste some salt!
Baked Whole Fish in Salt
H M P
First stage: The beginning, healing diet indicated with an “H”
Second stage: A maintenance diet when the inflammation is gone and you are moving into a gluten and dairy free diet indicated by an “M”
Third stage: Paleo indicated by a “P”
One whole fish like branzino, walleye, bass, large red snapper, gutted, cleaned and dried, head intact
4 egg whites
2 c. kosher salt
Optional: stuffing lemon slices and/or fresh thyme in the body of the fish: this was not what I had in Spain but it does add extra flavor
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form then add the salt. You can lay down a piece of parchment paper on a rimmed baking sheet or not: up to you. Put enough of the salt/egg white mixture down on the baking sheet to form an oval for the fish. Place fish on the salt mixture. Spoon the salt over the fish to create a seal. Bake for 25″-30″.
The picture below shows the fish encrusted with salt in a roasting pan with only salt, no egg whites. I have done it both ways and the end result is the same. Try it with or without egg whites. Egg whites serve as a “glue”.
Present at the table. Mario Batali suggests that the baking dish is oven to table, ready for presentation. Good on ya, Mario. I should buy a Creuset dish but am putting a daughter through college. I am sticking with that rimmed baking sheet for now! Crack the salt crust with a small hammer or back of a kitchen knife. Scrape off salt on top of the fish. Carefully slide fish onto a platter. Carefully de-bone (watch a YouTube tutorial! It is worth the effort to not butcher this beautiful fish). Plate and drizzle with the highest quality olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Serve with green vegetables: steamed broccolini, shredded kale salad, grilled asparagus. Chapter Three: Nage. worth the wait!