One thing I’ve always wanted to try was roasting a whole fish. It has a very rustic appeal, and meat always has more flavor when cooked on the bone. True to form, I did most of my research after cooking the dish, when the mistakes had already been made. That just means that you don’t have to make the same mistakes.
This was actually surprisingly easy. The recipe I used, from Bon Appétit, required more work than some recipes I’ve since read. For stuffing the cavity of the fish I had to clean and slice leeks, roast whole coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and black pepper kernels, and then crush the roasted spices by hand. After doing more research I’ve learned that you can use whatever spices and aromatics you have on hand, along with plenty of sliced lemon.
This is a dramatic dish that makes a beautiful presentation. It’s often served as a Christmas dinner. Imagine bringing a whole salt encrusted fish on a large platter, sitting it in front of your guests, and cracking the salt crust to reveal the tender fish inside.
How It Works
Most of the recipes you’ll find call for a large fish, usually three or more pounds. I used a one pound trout and it was enough meat for two large servings or four modest servings. I used one whole 22 ounce can of sea salt (kosher works too. Get the cheapest non-iodized salt you can find.) Mix the salt with two whisked egg whites until it’s the consistency of wet sand. Then spread it in a one inch layer on your baking pan. You’re basically creating a salt bed for the fish.
Stuff the cavity of the fish with your choice of herbs and aromatics, and lay it on top of the salt bed. Pile the remaining salt mixture on top and use your hands to form it around the fish, enclosing it completely in salt. Roast it until it reaches an internal temperature of 125º to 130º F (about 15 minutes for my small fish, longer for a larger fish.)
But isn’t it salty?
No! It’s seasoned perfectly. And even though I stuffed it laughably full of leeks and spices their flavors were pleasantly subtle. The fish was tender and juicy, and was even good the next day after a quick reheat in the microwave!
Recipes for Baking Fish in Salt
- Bon Appétit (The one I used)
- The Italian Dish
- The Splendid Table
- Tom Colicchio for Los Angeles Times
- The New York Times
How to Fillet a Whole Cooked Fish
Here are some instructional videos that I wish I’d watched before serving my fish. It’s so simple!
Isn’t it great that often the simplest preparations are the most impressive!
Thanks for reading!