There's something about baking an entire fish, head to tail, that tends to scare people off. I get it, since it took me a few tries not to be squeamish while staring into that milky eye whenever I order roasted fish in restaurants.
But the benefits of roasting a fish whole should really encourage more people to do it. It's cheaper per pound, since you aren't buying a precisely cut filet, and it's almost impossible to screw up, since roasting the meat around the bones and sealed in the skin makes it hard to overcook. Plus, you can stuff the cavity with all kinds of aromatics that give the fish lovely added flavor!
Just don't stare the fish dead in its dead, white eyes and you'll be fine.
Here, I've taken the added step of encasing the fish in a salt crust, which both seasons the fish and steams it, yielding beautiful, delicious, moist fish. Serve it drizzled with a little olive oil and it is sublime. Also? Cracking into that baked crust is second only to the fun of breaking into a creme brulee.
Now, somebody just teach me how to properly flake this thing apart after cooking. Other recipes tell me it's a simple matter of pulling the flesh from the spine and lifting it off with a fork. My little pile of shredded fish was fun, but I don't think that's really how it was supposed to turn out. Hopefully you have better luck, and play a less dangerous guessing game with the pin bones.
Whole Salt Baked Fish
Adapted from Dave Pasternack
- one, 2 lb whole fish (or two, 1 lb whole fish) such as branzino, black bass, etc., cleaned and scaled
- 2 lbs kosher salt or fine sea salt (about 3 cups)
- 3 large egg whites
- extra virgin olive oil, for brushing and serving
- parsley, thyme, lemon slices, garlic, for stuffing
- Heat oven to 425. Bring fish to room temperature for 20 minutes. In a large bowl, mix salt and egg whites until mixture is the texture of moistened sand.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and brush with oil. Sprinkle a bit of the salt mixture into a thin layer in roughly the shape of your fish. Brush fish with oil and set on top of the layer of salt. Stuff with sprigs of parsley, thyme, lemon slices and a clove of garlic in each fish, then top with remaining salt mixture and lightly pack. It's ok if tails and heads poke out a bit at the ends (if you manage to completely enclose your fish, use a skewer to poke a hole through the salt pack near where the head meets the body).
- Bake fish for 25 minutes, to about 135 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes, then crack the salt and discard. Brush off any excess salt, remove skin and stuffing, then debone and fillet the flesh (my strategy is to remove the top filets with a spoon, lift out the spine, remove any visible pin bones, and then chew VERY carefully while eating). Serve, drizzled with olive oil.