Seasonal Chef: Preparing an Easy Salt Crusted Fish Dish

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Salt crusted fish is a very dramatic way to present your cooked whole fish at the table. Carrying it out on a tray and cracking open the crust to reveal the perfectly steamed fish. A gentle hand, and flat server, easily lifts the filets to your guest. How does it all get done, you might wonder? Is it difficult? It does a look  bit daunting but actually it’s one of the easiest preparations, as the oven does all the work for you.

Stuffing the branzino.

First set up your fish. Have your fishmonger gut and clean a fresh fish for you. This branzino pictured is 1.5 pounds; more than enough for 2 people. You can use anywhere from 1 to 1.5 for every two servings. Red snapper is also a perfect fish for this application as well. Place it on a foil-lined bake sheet. This will be important at the end for a very easy cleanup. Drizzle with a little oil and season the inside with a little salt and pepper, and stuff with a lemon (used after you zest it!) and basil.

Making a salt crust

In a large mixing bowl you will need 2 cup of kosher salt for every 1 – 1.5 lbs. Be sure you use kosher salt, and not fine or iodized salt. You need the graininess for this to work. For each cup of salt you need 1 lemon fully zested. Don’t be skimpy, zest the entire lemon. When you are done take one and slice thickly for the inside of the fish. Set the other one aside for later. Using your fingers combine the zest well.

Egg whites.

For each cup of salt you need 1 egg white. With a whisk whip them up until the are very foamy.

Lemon zest combined into the kosher salt.

Add that to the lemon-salt and combine it well. You can use a spoon, but I highly encourage you to use your hands again. You want to make sure the whites are combined throughout. You will have the consistency of wet sand at this point.

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Scoop the salt by small handfuls on to the fish and start patting it down. You want to work quickly and smoothly. The fish should have about a 1/2″ cover all over it. Be sure to cover the entire fish. If the tail sticks out a bit don’t worry, just make sure you have 95% of the rest of it covered. Then into a 450 degree preheated oven for 25 minutes.

Roasting sweet potatoes

White the fish cooks you can make your side dishes. I had a couple of sweet potatoes  in the basket and decided to make them, but whatever you desire is fine. Its nice to have a vegetable and a little salad along with the fish. For the sweet potatoes I simply sliced them in 2″ pieces and tossed with a little olive oil and spices. I baked them at 450 degrees for 20 minutes. After 10 minutes I flipped them so they had a nice crust on both sides. Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil, until ready to use.

Quick tomato salad.

I also had some tomatoes and a little extra basil, so I made a really simple tomato-basil salad with a lemon-olive oil dressing. Again, whatever you want to have is perfectly fine.

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Here is a little tip for your lemon: You only need 2 wedges for the plates so cut the remaining lemon in half, lengthwise. One half you can use for the salad and the other half cut again. Lay it on it’s side and with a very sharp paring knife slice off the white edge and pop out the seeds. There is nothing more annoying than squeezing a lemon over something and having the seeds pop out. It’s so easy to do this ahead, and makes a really pretty presentation at the end.

Out of the oven, let the fish rest for 10 minutes.

Once the fish is done take it out of the oven and let it rest on the counter for 10 minutes. (Set your timer!) While your fish is resting bring your sides to the table and prepare to wow everyone!

Crack open the crust for the salt crusted fish.

First crack open the crust on the sides. I used a small paring knife gently cutting through the lower edge. Once you make a few cracks the top will easily pull off in one piece. Lots of “oohs and ahhs” about now!

Top filet of a salt crusted fish.

Peel back the skin and gently remove the top filet.

Remove the back bone of a salt crusted fish.

The backbone will out lift very easily. Lay it next to the fish on the pan. You may need to gently scrape around a little to remove the pin bones. There won’t be many, but look for them.

Remove the bottom filet layer.

Then lift the bottom filet. I used a flat pie server, pictured here, which was the perfect tool to remove the filets.

Easy cleanup

Put the bones and filling back in the crust, cover with the top and seal in the foil for a very quick and easy cleanup!

Branzino, Spicy Sweet Potatoes and Tomato Salad, Seasonal Chef, Maria Reina

You can top with a little fruity olive oil, the lemon wedge, a tiny sprinkle of salt and pepper, parsley or chives; but I just kept it straightforward and simple with the seasoning and olive oil. The fish is so moist and delicious this way, it really doesn’t need much more. Click here to see the recipe for Salt Crusted Fish.

The next time you are looking to wow the crowd give the salt crust a try. It’s easy and really so rewarding at the end.

Buon Appetito!

Salt Crusted Fish

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: Serves 2

With just a little bit of prep for this easy salt crusted fish dish, the oven does all the work and you get all the glory.

Ingredients

  • 1 - 1 to 1.5 lb whole branzino or red snapper
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Ground black pepper
  • 2 lemons fully zested
  • 1 bunch of basil
  • 2 egg whites
  • Fruity oil, garnish
  • Fresh chopped parsley or chives, optional

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Place the whole fish on a foil lined sheet tray and drizzle with a little olive oil. Season the cavity with a little salt and ground black pepper.
  3. In a separate bowl add 2 cups of kosher salt and the lemon zest. Combine thoroughly with your hands.
  4. Slice one of the lemons into 4 round pieces and place in the cavity of the fish, along with half of the basil. Reserve the other half for garnish or salad.
  5. In a separate small bowl whisk the egg whites until they are foamy and frothy. Add to the lemon salt and mix well with your hands. You will have the constancy of wet sand.
  6. Scoop the salt mix carefully over the fish patting it down as you go. You will have enough to cover the fish with a 1/4 - 1/2" layer.
  7. Place in the oven and set the timer for 25 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes, to allow it to rest.
  9. Crack the crust along the lower edge of the fish using a flat server or small paring knife. The crust will pop off in one piece.
  10. Remove the skin and lift out the top filet. Look for pin bones around the edges. Remove the backbone and lift out the lower filet.
  11. Top with a drizzle of fruity oil, lemon, parsley or chives if desired. Serve immediately.

Notes

If you run out of salt near the tail don't worry. As long as you have 95% of the fish covered you will be ok. Just make sure the rest of the fish is completely sealed.

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Salt Crusted Fish

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Yield: Serves 2

Ingredients

1 – 1 to 1.5 lb whole branzino or red snapper
Olive oil
Kosher salt
Ground black pepper
2 lemons fully zested
1 bunch of basil
2 egg whites
Fruity oil, garnish
Fresh chopped parsley or chives, optional

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Place the whole fish on a foil lined sheet tray and drizzle with a little olive oil. Season the cavity with a little salt and ground black pepper.
In a separate bowl add 2 cups of kosher salt and the lemon zest. Combine thoroughly with your hands.
Slice one of the lemons into 4 round pieces and place in the cavity of the fish, along with half of the basil. Reserve the other half for garnish or salad.
In a separate small bowl whisk the egg whites until they are foamy and frothy. Add to the lemon salt and mix well with your hands. You will have the constancy of wet sand.
Scoop the salt mix carefully over the fish patting it down as you go. You will have enough to cover the fish with a 1/4 – 1/2? layer.
Place in the oven and set the timer for 25 minutes.
Remove from the oven and set the timer for 10 minutes, to allow it to rest.
Crack the crust along the lower edge of the fish using a flat server or small paring knife. The crust will pop off in one piece.
Remove the skin and lift out the top filet. Look for pin bones around the edges. Remove the backbone and lift out the lower filet.
Top with a drizzle of fruity oil, lemon, parsley or chives if desired. Serve immediately.

Notes

If you run out of salt near the tail don’t worry. As long as you have 95% of the fish covered you will be ok. Just make sure the rest of the fish is completely sealed.

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About Author

Seasonal Chef blogger Maria Reina comes to the world of food as a third career, spending a great portion of her adult life in the field of Human Resources. With her private company Bella Cucina Maria she is a personal chef, caterer and recreational cooking class teacher in Westchester. She's an avid food television watcher and cookbook collector, always looking for a new take on a traditional dish. In her free time she loves hanging out at local farmers, chatting it up with the farmers and doing cooking demos with their seasonal ingredients. In addition to her blog, which is loaded with easy recipes, you can follow her on Facebook (Bella Cucina Maria), Twitter (Bellacucinam) and Pinterest (Bellacucinam).

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