Last year, in a fit of
seasonal generosity and warmth absolute and utter insanity, I decided to host a Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes. For thirty five people. The day before I was also hosting Christmas Dinner. Oh yeah, also I’m Jewish. This year I am not hosting Christmas, just as I didn’t host Thanksgiving. This seems to be my year of accepting invitations. I can’t say it hasn’t been working out as the extravagance and excess of those who hosted Thanksgiving and those who are hosting Christmas make me look frugal by comparison. However, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been giving thought to how I’d handle these meals this year.
With that in mind I cooked a fish….er, dish that was so simple, so delicious, and such a showstopper that it was almost worth calling dibs on Christmas Eve again. Then I carefully proceeded to take photos so I could write an extensive post, documenting the simplicity and stunning outcome.
Then I proceeded to lose said photos. POOF! Gone into the virtual ether. The worst part? I made it twice. Swear to God. The first time I made it I was alone with the FoodieKids and just snapped a few shots from my iPhone. However, it came out so well that I just had to make it again for FoodieWife and take some actual, decent photos. Both sets, gone.
Well, enough build-up and excuses. What was this miracle dish? This dish to end all dishes? This Christmas miracle? Yeah, the build-up is officially too much. It was Salt Baked Fish. That’s it, fish baked in salt. Hey, don’t get mad at me if I oversold it, go re-read the title of the post. Caveat emptor!
I have made no bones about (pun?) my love of cooking animals whole. Whether it be pig, or chicken or, hopefully this summer, goat. Fish is no exception. I’ve been hooked (pun?) ever since, when on vacation on Grand Cayman a few years back, I bought a red snapper, stuffed it with lime, lemongrass, ginger, cilantro, jalapenos, butter, soy sauce and garlic, then cooked it whole on a grill. In the Caribbean. At night. It was just so perfect. However, though she’s no longer a vegetarian (thank God), FoodieWife gets skittish eating anything with a face still attached. Salt baking a fish bought me some cover. No, it literally bought me a cover. When I cracked the salt shell that encased my perfectly steamed, fragrant, moist and tender branzino, I just left the part that was covering the face. That is, until FoodieWife wasn’t looking and then I selfishly ate the cheeks, the best part, by myself. Hey, not my fault she’s a face-o-phobe.
Thankfully, the internet has no shortage of recipes for salt baked fish. There are even a bunch of beautiful images. Just not here. As I said, I used branzino which worked beautifully. However, any firm-fleshed fish such as red snapper, sea bass or bream work well. You will notice that many recipes are similar and that most are stunningly simple. Stuff some herbs into the cavity, encase in a salt and egg white mix, cook, crack, and enjoy. Take a moment, when you first crack the salt crust to enjoy the incredible aroma that wafts up at you. Delicate, delicious, redolent of both Earth and sea. If you are having a lot of people, it is no harder to cook two or three than it is to cook one.
Any of these recipes will work beautifully:
Note: Many of these recipes call for sea salt as a crust. I used kosher salt which worked beautifully but requires a bit more egg white. Your mix should have the texture of wet sand and should hold together when you pack it around the fish.
I hope you use one of these, I hope you enjoy one of these, and I wish you all a very merry Christmas!