By Ryan McKay
With a recent trip to the farmer’s market nearing an end, I found myself yet again lingering in the fish monger’s section eyeing some fresh Branzino with longing. For some, fish can be a daunting task, what with their delicate nature, the relatively high cost, and the work that can be required to enjoy them. So, I reviewed my techniques to remember the easiest way to cook a whole fish and retain its subtle flesh so I could reasonably justify the purchase. It was then I remembered salt-baked fish.
Nothing could be easier than placing a whole fish in the oven and waiting for it to cook. This technique of creating an encapsulated salt dome (think salt igloo) was created to steam the fish in its own juices, thus creating a moist, flavorful flesh while it roasts in the oven. With nothing but salt, egg whites, and water, this crust holds its shape; a few smacks with the back of a large spoon will crack it open. Once you do, the aroma of fish, citrus, and herbs fills the nose as this table stopper is placed in front of your crew or family.
A few after the fire critiques: I went with Branzino here, but any white flesh fish with tick skin will do. Think bass, red snapper, monkfish, etc., but whatever you chose, ensure your fishmonger removes all the scales for you! I went with lemon and rosemary, but feel free to use any complementary citrus and herbs. Finally, I suggest placing parchment paper under the fish and salt to use as a carry all to move the fish to a cutting board or table.
White Flesh Fish (2-4 lbs)
Salt (Kosher, 3 lb. box)
Eggs (4, whites only)
Lemon (1, thinly sliced)
Rosemary (2 sprigs, bruised)
Pepper and Salt
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Rinse the fish under cold running water, then pat dry.
- Score the skin every 1 inch from the gills to the tail. Insert the lemon slices and rosemary into the cavity and reserve.
- Place the salt, egg whites, and ½ cup of water into a large bowl and mix until it resembles wet sand.
- On the baking sheet, place a piece of parchment paper enough to hang over the sides by 2 inches to create a carryall.
- Place ½ inch layer of salt to create a bed, place the fish so as to fit comfortably across the baking sheet, cover with salt, and use the backside of a spoon or your hand to shape the salt dome to cover the fish.
- Place in the center of the oven and cook for 20-30 minutes or until the internal temperature of the fish registers 130°F.
- Transfer the fish to a cutting board or table, remove the skin, and either fillet or lump the flesh; be careful to avoid the fish’s small pin bones. Indulge!
Ryan McKay is a 13-year fire service veteran and a firehouse cook from Atlanta, Georgia. His goal is to bring the fast-paced lifestyle of the fire service with the slow-paced art of cultivating family and crew through the tool that is food. He has made an appearance on NBC’s primetime show “Food Fighters,” is a co-founder of the Metro Atlanta EMS Conference, and works intimately with the SafePath Child Advocacy Center.