Mr. English and I just got back from a trip to France to visit our wedding caterer. The day of our tasting may have been the best day of my life. I’m not sure the actual wedding can beat sitting down to 11 different versions of every possible French menu item. We’ll see if love really does conquer all next fall.
But until then, I decided to recreate my favorite dish of the list: salt-baked sea bream. I’ve made it in cooking school, but I’d forgotten how mind-blowing and inimitable salt-baked fish really is, in addition to being criminally and deceptively simple. Here, a whole bream gets stuffed with herbs (the caterer used thyme, fennel, and tarragon; I use thyme and lemon) and then baked in a hard shell of packed salt. The salt adds only a little salinity to the fish itself, but as the salt shell hardens in the oven it seals in the steam and juices from the fish and the flavor from the herbs and citrus.
To serve, you bring the whole thing to the table—the head and tail of the fish poking out suggestively from the hard salt shell—and you crack it. It’s the seafood equivalent to flambéing a Crêpes Suzette—drama in the dining room as the salt falls away in chunky shards and the steam and scent escape in the air. And then you dine on the sweetest, softest, most perfect fish in the history of creation.
I think I’ve found true love.
Step-by-Step How to Salt-Crust a Fish
- 2 sea bream, about 3/4 pound each
- 10 sprigs of thyme
- 3 thin slices of lemon, halved
- A drizzle of olive oil (optional)
- 2 cups coarse sea salt
- 1 cup fine sea salt
- 1 egg white
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Pat the fish dry inside and out with paper towel. Stuff each fish cavity with half the thyme and lemon. Very lightly grease the whole outside of the fish with olive oil.
In a bowl, mix together the salts and the egg white with your hand. Add water a bit at a time until the mixture reaches the consistency of wet sand that you might use to build a sand castle.
On a rimmed baking sheet, create a layer of the salt mixture approximately the size of the two fishes, about 1/4 inch thick. Place the fish flat on this bed, and mound the salt around each fish, about 1/4 inch thick, creating a tight seal. Leave the head and tail exposed.
Bake for 30 minutes, then allow to rest for 10. Carefully break off the salt crush, and fillet the fish inside. Serve right away.print this recipe