Foodie Tuesday: Salt-Baked Fish

I first heard of cooking things in a crust of salt from none other than clementine's posterous.  She featured chicken roasted in salt over a fire, and it was at the same time one of the craziest, and yet totally intriguing things I'd heard about.  And I kept thinking about it for a year and a half before I finally worked up the nerve to try it.

So the thing about roasting in salt is that it's not nearly as scary as it sounds - burying your meat in a mound of salt.  But the salt forms a cohesive sort of cave, an oven-within-an-oven, if you will, within which the meat sort of dry steams (oxymoron, I know) in its own juicy flavors.  The meat stays moist and tender, and the salt draws away moisture so it doesn't get soggy at all.  Afterwards, you crack the salt crust open and eat the meat inside - as long as you are careful not to crumble the salt crust, your meat won't be too salty.
The result is delicate, warm and fragrant.  And very delicious.  Not to mention this was one of the easiest dishes I've made all year.
1) Buy the freshest fish you can get your paws on.  I went to the fishmonger at the local Chinese supermarket and pointed to fish swimming in tanks and had them catch, kill (he used swift strokes of a mallet to their heads!), and clean them.  I wasn't sure which kind to commit to, so I got both a striped bass and a rainbow trout (the trout ended up being way tastier).  I'd never bought live fish before and felt very accomplished, even though I didn't do anything other than point and pay.
2) When you get home with the fish, rinse and pat dry.
3) On your baking dish, lay out a generous layer of kosher salt.  I didn't really understand why it had to be kosher salt until I tried it out for myself.  Trust me - take the trouble to buy kosher salt, because I don't think regular table salt will crust the way you need it to.
4) Lay out some bay leaves, then lay out your fish on top of them.  Stuff its belly with some freshly sliced lemon and sprigs of parsley.  You can get fancier herbs if you want to, but I found this to be simple and delicious.
5) Now, cover the fish in salt.  Anywhere from 2 cups to 2 lbs, whatever it will take to form a nice crust (mine was between 1/3 to 1/2 an inch thick).
6) Roast in a pre-heated 400-degree oven for about 25-30 min.  I left mine in for too long and the bass got a little tough, but the trout was still moist and flavorful.
7) Crack open the salt crust and enjoy!  We had our fish with steamed wild rice and stir-fried bok choy.  Nom nom nom.
Some more pictures from Saturday - that Kung Fu riesling sure packs a punch!  I drank one small little glass and got drunker than I have in a long time.  And there are videos to prove it.
13 responses
I once tried that salt method of cooking fish and all I could taste was salt. I think the LATimes had recommended it. Glad yours was a success.
Sorry it didn't work out for you, George!  Maybe your salt crust crumbled too much and leaked onto the meat?  I found that we were able to brush the salt away pretty easily, and if we didn't eat the fish skin, the meat inside was just fine.
That was one great and simple recipe, have to try it at the soonest!
my dad used to make this and it was amazing! i know exactly what you're talking about - moist, tender, perfectly steamed and seasoned. i'm going to have to find the courage to go to chinatown and ask for a live fish!
The fish in the first image looks like he smiles...
@Dora hahahaha that would be his GILLS!
Hey I stumbled onto your blog. I goto Hong Kong a bunch for business, I can relate. And the fish look amazing! I might try it. Thanks for posting.
Cool, thanks Joe!
Sea fishes are normally saltier, hence I guess this is going to be more saltier, isn't it?
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