A technique for baking in tenderness.
The sight of a whole fish, completely covered in coarse salt, coming to the dinner table is enough to make a cardiologist cringe. Or is it? I’m certain we all agree that excessive salt in our diets is a bad thing, but the surprising thing about this dish is that the salt is used to insulate the fish from the heat rather than add in any way to its flavor. In fact, once broken free from its crust, the end product is far from salty, yet moist and delicate.
My first experience with this dish was in Italy and the fish under the salty dome was some species of Mediterranean sea bass, about a three-pounder. Once home, I tried the recipe, with great success, using a 15-pound striped bass. But since then, thanks to the experimenting skills of my daughter and food blogger Cecelia, my preference runs to snapper—American red if available, but vermilion mostly. Vermilion snapper (a.k.a. beeliners) are just the right size for a fish course or entrée and are available whole, year-round, at better fish markets statewide. I suspect any firm-fleshed fish will work, including redfish, sheepshead or any of the larger porgies. FS
Cecelia’s Salt Roasted Vermilion Snapper
1 ½ boxes kosher salt, divided
10 dried bay leaves
1 lemon, sliced
2 egg whites
2 whole vermilion snapper, cleaned and scaled (about 1.5 pounds each)
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Pour a half-inch layer (or about half) of kosher salt on the bottom of a large heavy pan or skillet. Lay about 6 bay leaves on top of the salt. Place the scaled snapper on top of the salt and stuff with lemon slices, additional bay leaves and parsley. Layer more lemon slices and parsley on top of the fish.
In a large bowl, mix the remaining salt with the two egg whites. Pile the mixture on top of the fish—totally enclosing the fish.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Then, using a knife or the back of a spoon, crack open the salt covering on top of the fish and remove it gently. Try not to leave too much salt behind—just brush any additional salt off the fish using a pastry brush.
Enjoy the fish and steer clear of the bones! This is intentionally a communal dish—so dig in! Serves 4.
First published Florida Sportsman December 2014