Prep time 45 minutes
Active prep time 20 minutes
Special equipment needed: None
Skills needed: Preparing a Fish to be Cooked Whole
This recipe is as easy as its presentation is dramatic. It is a traditional Mediterranean preparation that is both true to the fish and extremely flavorful. The salt does not penetrate the fish excessively so it will not be overly salty, but just salty enough. The salt crust encases and protects the fish which keeps in all the juices and helps it hold together while cooking. This gives the fish a beautiful and lively appearance when it comes out of the oven. To free the fish from the salt, you need to smack it hard with a spoon which will create a crack. Stick a fork in the crack and lever off the salt. It takes a bit of effort. Once the fish is freed from the salt, use the fork to peel the rest of the skin, then gently lift off the top fillet. The bones should then lift out in one piece like a cartoon fish skeleton. Then clean up the bottom fillet and you’ll have two perfect pieces of fish. I like to do this at the table with a dish for salt and bones so that everyone can see the big reveal.
2 gilthead sea bream, whole, gutted, gills removed, preferably similar in size
2 Tablespoons butter
1 sprig fresh Rosemary or dill but not both
2 cloves Garlic – Minced
4 cups sea salt
3 egg whites
1/3 cup water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Quarter the lemon and place two parts inside the cavity of each fish. Season with a little of the salt. Put ½ of the butter, rosemary or dill, and garlic into the cavity of each fish.
Mix the salt, egg whites, and water together to form a stiff paste. Add more water as needed to make it workable. The paste should be thick enough to not run off of the fish. It should stay where you put it.
Put a very thin layer on the bottom of a glass roasting pan, then put the fish on top. Form and layer at least ¼” but not more than ½” thick over the entire fish, so that no fish is exposed to air. The fish should be fully encased.
Bake for 25 minutes or until the salt is hardened and starts to develop a light brown color around the edges. 25 minutes is a pretty consistent time if your fish are around 1 lb each. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 5 minutes before serving.
Break into the salt and clean up the fish as much as you like before serving.