I taught a “Gone Fishin” class at Sweet Basil Gourmet in Scottsdale, AZ. last year that was a huge hit with my students, most of whom had never prepared fish at home. The thought of touching the slimy little guys grosses most people out and prevents them from exploring and experimenting with one of the culinary worlds most versatile proteins. Fish is healthy, chock full of beneficial oils, and absolutely delicious.
The specific focus of this class was to bake a fish. Salt plays a integral roll in baking fish but what most people don’t realize is that baking a fish that is covered in salt doesn’t result in a salty tasting dish! Rather, the salt forms a protective layer around the skin of the fish and never comes in contact with the flesh. This layer keeps the meat very tender and moist. Below you will find two approaches to baking a fish, one that utilizes salt, and the other without.
8 STEPS TO BAKING A WHOLE FISH:
You will need: paper towels, a knife, a rack or aluminum foil, a
baking sheet, a fork, a spatula, one small whole
fish (a two-pound fish will feed two to three people;
ours was farm-raised striped bass, but you could
buy snapper, catfish, branzino, or a small salmon;
it should come already scaled and gutted).
Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (it
will take at least 20 minutes to warm up).
Rinse the fish inside and out in the sink, and
pat it dry with paper towels.
Cut off the bottom back fin, then stick your
knife inside the fish’s belly where it has been
gutted and slice it open a little more by
penetrating deeper and extending the cut
toward the tail.
Place the rack inside the baking sheet
and lay the fish on top of it. If you have no rack,
cover the baking sheet in aluminum foil and
lay the fish on that. (The bottom of the fish will
get a little dried out this way, because it’ll be in
direct contact with the hot pan.)
Drizzle oil over the fish, inside and out and on both sides,
then spread it evenly with your fingers. Season
generously inside and out with salt and
pepper. (You can also place lemon slice inside fish)
Put the fish in the oven, and check it after
30 minutes. If the skin pulls away easily
and the flesh underneath is flaky, the fish
is done. Let it rest five minutes.
You can bring the fish to the table whole. When
you’re ready to eat it, remove the skin and
fins by peeling them away with a fork and your
Cut each side of the fish in half, remove the
pieces with a spatula, and serve.
Whole Fish Baked in Sea Salt
Tip: You’ll need about twice the weight of the fish in salt to cover it almost an inch thick all around.
Oven-roasting whole fish marries ease of preparation with stunning presentation.
Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 3-pound cleaned scaled whole fish (such as whitefish or salmon), fins removed
1 cup thinly sliced leek (white and pale green parts only)
1 lemon, thinly sliced into rounds
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup water
2 26.5-ounce boxes coarse sea salt (6 cups)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 450°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with foil, leaving generous overhang. Combine first 3 ingredients in small skillet. Toast spices over medium heat until beginning to pop, stirring frequently, about 9 minutes. Cool spices. Coarsely crush in mortar with pestle or in heavy resealable plastic bag with mallet.
Rinse fish inside and out; pat dry. Sprinkle all of spice mixture in fish cavity. Stuff with leek and lemon slices.
Whisk egg whites and water in large bowl to blend. Add salt. Stir until salt is evenly moistened. Spread 2 cups salt mixture in 4-inch-wide, 12-inch-long strip (or use more to equal length of fish) on prepared sheet. Place fish on salt. Cover fish completely with remaining salt mixture, pressing to seal.
Bake fish 25 minutes. Let stand in crust 10 minutes.
Using large knife, rap crust sharply to crack. Brush salt from fish. Cut into portions and serve, passing extra-virgin olive oil and lemon wedges alongside.
For 8 to 10 servings, cook a 4 1/2-pound fish instead (you’ll need to use 3 egg whites, 6 tablespoons water, and 3 boxes of salt). Bake the fish for 35 minutes. Whatever size fish you use, be sure to preheat the oven for 30 minutes, using an oven thermometer for accuracy. You can always ask you behind-the-counter fishmonger to remove the bones before you cook the fish – however depending on the fish, there may still be a few small bones left.