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Video Recipe: Salt-Crusted Fish

Video Length: 10:20
Produced by: Sarah Breckenridge, videography by Gary Junken and Mike Dobsevage, editing by Mike Dobsevage.

by Tony Rosenfeld
from Fine Cooking #110, p. 48-55

Salt-crusting fish has always seemed magical to me. I first learned about the technique during an apprenticeship at Bastianelli al Molo, an upscale seafood restaurant just outside Rome. Every couple of minutes during the dinner rush, waiters would speed away from the roasting station, balancing platters of whole fish encased in mounds of hardened salt. Working tableside with a large fork and serving spoon, they would crack open the salt crust, carefully extract the pristine, steaming fish fillets within, and serve the fish with a drizzle of good olive oil. From my perch at the grill station, I studied every moment of the process, taking careful mental notes.

Though salt-crusting has all the drama of a restaurant technique, it's easy to do at home. All you need is a large baking sheet, a remote probe or instant-read thermometer, a big box of kosher salt, some oil, water, egg whites, and a fresh whole fish. (Almost any round fish will do. You'll find recipes below for trout and salmon, but striped bass, black sea bass and black cod are also great choices.)

The salt of the matter

You'll need quite a bit of salt for this technique. Kosher salt works better for salt-crusting than table salt because its larger crystals give you a sturdier crust. To know how much to buy, refer to the chart and keep the following in mind:

• A 3-lb. box of Morton's kosher salt contains about 6 cups of salt.
• A 3-lb. box of Diamond Crystal contains about 9 cups.

FISH SERVES OLIVE OIL KOSHER SALT EGG WHITES WATER COOK TIME
12 oz. to 1 lb. 1 to 2 1/2 tsp. 3 cups 2 1/4 cup 15 to 20 min.
1 to 2 lb. 2 to 3 1 tsp. 4-1/2 cups 3 1/4 cup + 2 Tbs. 20 to 30 min.
2 to 3 lb. 3 to 4 2 tsp. 6 cups 4 1/2 cup 30 to 45 min.
3 to 4-1/2 lb. 4 to 5 1 Tbs. 7-1/2 cups 5 1/2 cups + 2 Tbs. 40 min. to 1 hour
Optional aromatics for the cavity: fresh rosemary, dill, or thyme sprigs; bay leaves or fennel fronds; thin slices of garlic, shallots, or fresh ginger; thin slices of lemon or orange
Get the recipes
Salt-Crusted Trout with Lemon-Dill Beurre Blanc   Salt-Crusted Salmon with Fennel and Green Olive Relish
Salt-Crusted Trout with Lemon-Dill Beurre Blanc   Salt-Crusted Salmon with Fennel and Green Olive Relish

 

 Fennel, Green Olive, and Mint Relish Lemon-Dill Beurre Blanc Caramelized Onion and Sherry Vinaigrette
Fennel, Green Olive, and Mint Relish   Lemon-Dill Beurre Blanc   Caramelized Onion and Sherry Vinaigrette

 

Master the technique

First, stir together the salt, water, and egg whites-this will be your salt crust. Make a bed of the salt mixture on the baking sheet, set the fish on top, and cover with the rest of the salt, patting it around the fish to enclose it completely.

Roasting the fish inside this crust essentially creates an oven within your oven. The crust maintains an even temperature so the fish cooks gently, and it protects the fish from the oven's dry heat, locking in juices and absorbing steam. This way, the finished fish has the silky texture you expect from roasting, not the sogginess you get from steaming.

Even the fish's skin plays a part, adding another layer of protection for the delicate flesh inside. Because the skin is removed before serving, the fish is never overly salty, just well-seasoned.

Salt-crusting is going to be your new favorite way to cook fish. It's foolproof, and the results are dramatic and delicious-no magic required.

Photos: Scott Phillips

 

posted in: fish, salt-crusting
Comments (6)

Luv2travel writes: Used this technique on some Montana Rainbows I caught (3 1/2 lbs ea).

WOW !! So tender and the flesh was firm but so moist. Thanks I can now cook my catch with confidence.

Honey, when you wake up I'll be gone fishing and won't be home till dark thirty :)

Posted: 6:23 pm on September 12th

fxdp writes: Did the recipe with trout and beurre blanc as per the video. Delicious. My wife said, "This could be Zagat rated!"

My one comment: it's really difficult to keep salt out of the fish as you fillet it. Next time I'm using a bigger pan so there's room to push the salt far away from the fish as it's being filleted. That whole part is a bit messy, and if you get extra salt into the fish when serving, it really messes things up. But worth it and I'll definitely try it again. Posted: 11:06 pm on July 2nd

DomesticityNouveau writes: This was FANTASTIC! and sooo easy to do! I think this is the way I will cook fish from now on! Posted: 8:49 pm on May 20th

phototom writes: The only issue I would have on this would be the sodium count on how high it would be in the fish. Posted: 1:01 pm on March 29th

robingitlitz writes: My son and I made this using Red Snapper and the Onion and Sherry Vinaigrette and the fish was moist, and delicious! The Vinaigrette was a huge success as well, adding much to the flavor palate. I can't wait to try this with other fish as well. Posted: 12:41 pm on March 29th

Bigdaddy316 writes: I'm not a fan of fish but I'm trying to include it in my diet and cooking repertoire, this technique looked so interesting I couldn't resist trying it. I was not disappointed, nor was my family. I used trout with the onion & sherry vinaigrette and the fish turned out great, soft and flaky without being either too moist or too dry. The vinaigrette was also a hit, a great complement to the fish.

Posted: 1:32 pm on March 27th

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