Food Wisdom

Baked Fish in Salt Crust

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When cooking for guests there are three things I look for in recipes…the food has to be delicious (of course), it should be simple to prepare and it must look great on the table. With the holiday season in mind, I thought I’d share a great fish recipe that ticks all three of these boxes. The first time I made this dish, I was a bit worried that it would be too salty but most of the salt really does come off when you remove the crust, revealing a perfectly moist and well seasoned fish.

Italians, Spaniards and the French all have a tradition of eating fish for the holidays. It seems like such a good idea to keep your main course light so you can indulge in all of the other decadent treats that come with the holidays.

Fish is a high quality protein packed with vitamin D and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Eating fish once or twice a week may also reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s disease, and other chronic conditions, but finding a clean and sustainable fish these days can be quite tricky. Always try to go to a good fishmonger and opt for wild, line caught, seasonal varieties so you can eat your fish relatively guilt-free. The Marine Conservation Society has a website to help you decide which fish you should buy (https://www.mcsuk.org.).

Sea bass, dorade or snapper, all work well with this cooking method.

INGREDIENTS:
Fish:
1.5kg whole fish gutted and scaled (this can also be two smaller whole fish)
1.5kg sea salt
6 egg whites
3-4 tablespoons herbs de provence
1 lemon sliced into 6-7 pieces
selection of fresh aromatic herbs (I used basil and parsley this time, but you can also use rosemary, fennel fronds, thyme, etc.)
Pistou:
3 tbsp toasted pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
2 cups basil
1/2 cup extra virgen olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION:

Preheat the oven to 220c.

Rinse the fish and pat dry with a paper towel.

Stuff the lemon slices and fresh herbs into the cavity of the fish. Leave in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

Mix the herbs de provence with the sea salt. Whip the egg whites until they are stiff then gently fold the salt and herb mixture into the eggs.

Line a large roasting tin with parchment and place about 1/3 of the salt/egg mixture at the bottom of the pan. Place the stuffed fish onto the bed of salt. Add the rest of the salt/egg mixture over the top of the fish, taking care to cover the entire fish. You’re trying to build a shell around the fish so it can gently steam under the salt crust. If you don’t have enough of the salt mixture, the head and the tail can be left uncovered.

Place fish in the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. To check if the fish is done, use a small sharp knife to piece thru the salt crust at the thickest part of the fish, then touch the knife to your lips to see if it is hot. If it is, the fish is done. If the knife still feels cold, return the fish to the oven for a further 3-5 minutes.

Once the fish is done, remove it from the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes before removing the salt crust.

While the fish is resting, make the pistou by crushing the garlic and pine nuts in a mortar and pestle. Once they are ground, alternate adding the basil and the oil and keep grinding until you have a fine pesto-style paste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

After about 10 minutes of resting time, remove the crust from the fish by giving it a good whack with a wooden spoon. Remove all of the large pieces of crust, then use a pastry brush to get rid of all of the smaller pieces and remaining salt flakes.

Fillet the fish and serve it with the pistou on the side.

I served my fish with warm beluga lentils and a simple green salad dressed with lemon and olive oil.

Serves six.

And in case you’re interested in a yummy lentil side dish, here’s the recipe for that too…

Warm Beluga Lentils:

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups beluga lentils, rinsed and picked over
4-5 cups vegetable stock
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
3 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed
2 bay leaves
5 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced
1 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 cup of chopped mint
1 stalk of celery, finely diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
juice of one lemon
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION:
Combine the lentils, onion, garlic and bay leaf in a saucepan, and add 4 to 5 cups stock, enough to cover the lentils by an inch or two.

Bring to a gentle boil and reduce the heat, cover and simmer 25 minutes until tender but intact.

Remove from the heat and drain. Discard the onion, garlic cloves and bay leaf.

Mix the green onions, parsley, mint and tomatoes into the lentils.

Add the lemon juice, oil and salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 6.

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