How to Salt Bake a Whole Fish
A dramatic and easy method to cooking a perfect fish.
By mixing together a couple cups of kosher salt and some eggs whites, you can create a “salt tomb” to bake a fish in. The salt and egg white mixture becomes hard and seals the fish as it bakes. By creating a barrier that prevents moisture from escaping, the fish cooks in its own moisture and is flavored by the other ingredients being used to stuff the fish. I’ve prepared many fish in my day, and this is undoubtedly my favorite way to bake a whole fish—not to mention how dramatic and fun it is to break the fish out of its salt shell!
Step 1: Buy Fish
You can use just about any fish, but make sure your fishmonger has gutted it. You want a fish entirely open along the bottom so you can fill the cavity with herbs and citrus.
Step 2: Prepare “Stuffing”
Cut 1 whole lemon into 1/4-inch rings, and lay them inside the cavity of the fish. Then use whatever fresh herbs you want (tarragon, dill, thyme, parsley, etc.) to continue to stuff the cavity. You could also use some cut garlic cloves or sliced segments of fennel for flavor.
Step 3: Prepare Salt Mixture
The exact amount needed of the salt mixture will depend on the size of your fish. For a 3 lb. fish, you can use about 3 1/2 cups of kosher salt and 6 egg whites. Combine the salt and egg whites in a bowl. The mixture should feel like wet sand. If it is too dry, add another egg white.
Step 4: Bake Fish
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and then spread a thin layer of the salt mixture on the bottom where the fish will lay. It only needs to cover the area the fish will touch; do not cover the whole bottom of the baking sheet. Place the stuffed fish on the layer of salt. Use the rest of the salt to encase the entire fish. It’s important that the whole fish is covered. Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes (note: if the fish is heavier than 3 lb., then it will take a little longer).
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Step 5: Break Out Fish
Remove the baking sheet from the oven and use a knife to crack open the salt shell. The salt should be a light brown color. Use a spatula to peel back the layer of salt from the fish. If any salt clings to the skin of the fish, gently brush it off, and remove the fish to a serving platter. Throw away the parchment paper with the salt. Remove the ingredients used to stuff the fish and squeeze some fresh lemon juice across the fish to finish.