This recipe’s roots are in ancient Silk Road extravagance. Probably originating in the Mediterranean salt producing areas, it spread as far as China. You can salt-crust anything, (chicken was an early Chinese variation), but I like fish the best. Typically seen in the magazines with salmon, I use it on whatever fish looks fresh at the market.
1 3-pound whole fish (or the equivalent), such as salmon, trout, snapper, breem, or sea bass (cleaned and scaled)
1 lemon sliced into rounds
1 large bunch fresh thyme
2 large egg whites
5 cups unrefined salt – use something that is not too expensive, as you’ll need a lot. I usually pick up a big bag of coarse Korean Sea Salt from my local Asian market (99 Ranch!)
Good Quality olive oil, for serving
Lemon Wedges, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 450° F. Wash and dry fish. Open the cavity, fill it with the lemon slices and thyme sprigs, and close it back up and set aside.
- In a large bowl whip the egg whites to a light froth (no peaks necessary- just break up the albumen) then fold in salt. The mixture should resemble wet sand. Results may vary with salt type, so add a little water or more salt as necessary.
- Pat out the salt in the center of an ovenproof baking platter, about a half-inch thick, and slightly larger than your fish. Place the prepared fish on top, and pack the rest of the salt around and on top, completely sealing in the fish. (Some chefs like to leave the head and tail exposed, but I prefer to sculpt my salt into a fish face.) Place the pan into the preheated oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. The internal temperature for fish varies, and is a matter of personal preference. But in general, aim for around 130° F.
- Remove the fish from the oven and cool slightly, then present it at the table, where you can crack open the salt crust with a whack of a spoon. The salt comes off easily, exposing a perfectly cooked whole fish, which can then be divided up among your guests. Serve with simple accompaniment of good olive oil and lemon wedges.
Citrus Fish – Orange, grapefruit, and lime make a nice filling, separately, or together. For a real citrus punch, layer the outside of the fish with citrus slices as well.
Herbs – Thyme is certainly not your only option. Try fresh lavender, cilantro, sage, mint—anything goes. And consider adding a spice blend, or flavorful condiment to the cavity, like za’atar, furikake, curry, harrisa, or pesto.