Whole Roasted Fish in a Salt Crust

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Roasting a whole large fish in a salt crust might seem scary, but it’s actually quite simple. It’s just a matter of placing the fish on top of a bed of salt and patting a layer of salt over the fish—the salt seals in the juices, but amazingly doesn’t overwhelm the fish with a salty taste. Present the whole salt-crusted fish at the table if you’d like, then take it to the kitchen to deconstruct it.

Whole Roasted Fish in a Salt Crust
photographer: Ken Burris
Nutritionist Tested & Approved

Time: 45 minutes (20 minutes prep)

  • 2 pounds kosher salt

  • 1 cup water

  • 1 tablespoon herbes de Provence (see Tips)

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon best-quality extra-virgin olive oil , divided

  • 1 2- to 3-pound whole striped bass or tilapia, cleaned with head and tail intact (see Tips)

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

  • 4 bay leaves , preferably fresh

  • 10 sprigs fresh thyme

  • 8 sprigs flat-leaf parsley

  • 2 lemons , one sliced and one cut in wedges, divided

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a piece of foil. (To roast the fish in a foil packet instead of a salt crust, see Variation below.)

  2. To prepare salt crust: Combine salt, water and herbes de Provence in a bowl; mix until it’s the consistency of wet sand. Spread half the salt mixture on the prepared baking sheet in a rectangle just larger than the fish.

  3. To prepare fish: Open the fish up and season the inside with 1 teaspoon each salt and pepper. Then add a layer of half the herbs, a layer of the lemon slices and then of the remaining herbs. Place the stuffed fish on the rectangle of salt. Pat the remaining salt mixture over the fish to cover completely.

  4. Bake the fish for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for 2 minutes. Using a large spoon, rap all around the edge of the salt crust to loosen it. Remove the salt top and carefully remove the skin. Use an offset spatula to remove the top fillet from the bones and transfer to a warmed serving plate. (Wipe away any stray salt.) Use the spatula to lift away the bottom fillet and place it on the plate. Gently scrape off the herbs and lemon slices.

  5. Drizzle the fillets with the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and garnish with lemon wedges. Serve immediately.

Tips: Herbes de Provence is a mixture of dried herbs commonly used in the south of France. You can find commercial mixtures in specialty stores, but it is easy to make your own. Mix 1 tablespoon each (or equal proportions) dried thyme, rosemary, oregano, marjoram and savory in a small jar. If desired, add a pinch of dried lavender and crushed aniseed.

Call ahead to your fish market to have a fish, whole prepared for you. Ask the fishmonger to clean the fish—gutted, gills and scales removed, butterflied with backbone and rib bones removed—but leave the head and tail intact. This preparation makes for an impressive presentation at the table, but it’s easy to work with.

Variation: To roast the fish in a foil packet instead of a salt crust, place a piece of foil (a little more than twice the length of the fish) on a rimmed baking sheet. Brush 1 tablespoon oil over an area about as big as the fish. Place the fish on the oiled foil. Season and stuff the fish (see Step 3). Close the fish and fold the foil over it; crimp the edges to seal. Roast the fish, 20 to 30 minutes (8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness). Remove from the oven, open it up and gently scrape off the herbs and lemon slices. Use an offset spatula to remove the top fillet; transfer to a warmed serving plate. Lift away the bottom fillet and place on the plate. Finish with Step 5.

Nutritional Facts

0 g
4 g
Saturated Fat
1 g
24 g
110 mg
Dietary Fiber
0 g
356 mg
374 mg
4 servings
3 lean meat

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