Makes 6 to 10 main-course servings
When I first read about a recipe for a whole fish baked in salt, I was skeptical, suspecting the salt was for show and little else. But with a little experimenting, I did find that the salt enhances the flavor of fish, and cracking open the hardened salt casing has a dramatic effect at the table.
The easiest way to enclose a whole fish in salt is to use an oval baking dish a few inches longer and wider than the fish, fill it with about a third of the salt mixture, place the fish on top, pack the rest of the salt over it, and set the whole thing on a sheet pan in a 400 degrees F oven.
Because my oval baking dish isn't large, I only bake a whole salmon when I can find one that will fit—which means no more than 5 pounds. Since most farmed salmon are at least 8 pounds, you may have to order a small one or keep a look-out for so-called pink salmon, which is smaller and often a bargain. If you want to bake a larger salmon, measure your largest sheet pan to make sure the fish will fit and then wrap the fish and salt with a triple layer of aluminum foil instead of baking it in a dish. Count on 1-1/2 times as much salt (by weight) than fish and make sure that the fish is enclosed on all sides by at least a 1/2-inch-thick layer of salt crust—you shouldn't see the fish through the salt. Use coarse salt—I use kosher salt because it's cheap.
one 5- to 7-pound whole salmon,
scaled, gutted, and gills removed
6 or more egg whites, as needed
7 to 10 pounds kosher salt
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, if using aluminum foil
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Rinse and dry the fish thoroughly. Whisk together the egg whites and 1/2 cup cold water and combine it with the salt in a large mixing bowl. Work the mixture with your hands to distribute the water and egg whites in the salt. The salt mixture should hold together when you press a mound of it together between the palms of your hands. If it doesn't, work in another egg white.
If you're using a baking dish, select an oval one about 2 inches longer than the salmon. Fill the baking dish about a third full with the salt mixture and place the salmon on top. Cover the top and sides of the fish with the rest of the salt mixture and smooth over the salt with your hands or a spatula. If you're using aluminum foil, roll out a sheet of aluminum foil 3-1/2 times the length of the salmon. Fold the aluminum foil over itself lengthwise until you have a 10-inch wide triple-thick strip that's still 3-1/2 times the length of the salmon. Brush a sheet pan with oil and place the salmon on top. Place the aluminum foil around the fish and shape the foil so that it curves all around the fish with about 1 inch between fish and foil. Attach the ends of the aluminum foil strip with a paper clip or by just pinching the top of one end over the other end. Lift the salmon off the sheet pan and fill the mold with about 1/3 of the salt mixture—there should be a 1/2-to 3/4-inch thick layer of salt. Place the salmon on top. Spread the rest of the salt mixture over and around the fish and smooth over its surface with your hands.
Bake the salmon for 40 minutes to an hour. Start checking the temperature after 40 minutes by inserting an instant-read thermometer through the layer of salt. (You may have to twist and push a little to get the thermometer to penetrate through the salt.) When the fish measures 125 degrees F, take it out of the oven and let it sit for 15 minutes so the heat will continue to penetrate to the middle.
Bring the fish to the table on its sheet pan or on a large platter—something big enough to catch flying salt—and crack the salt crust with a mallet or a hammer. Pull back the salt layer and peel off the skin with a fork. Serve on hot plates in the same way as whole poached salmon (see page 109 in the book).
by James Peterson
Stewart, Tabori & Chang
$19.95, June 2001
160 Pages—65 Recipes, 50 Full-Color Photographs
Recipe reprinted by permission.
This page created March 2002
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