I first tasted branzino, a fish from the Mediterranean, while in Croatia on the Dalmatian coast. Delicate, flavorful and mild, it is one of my favorites. I’ve seen branzino even in U.S. grocery stores; it is sometimes labeled simply as “sea bass,” but if it is from the Mediterranean and small and slender in shape, it is likely branzino. You might also find it under the French name loup de mer or the German wolfsbarsch. We don’t have a huge variety of fresh fish here in Berlin, so when I saw these branzino, I knew what we were having for dinner!
For a long time, I’ve wanted to try salt-roasting a whole fish. Encased in an outer salt layer, the fish cooks beautifully inside while herbs and lemon intensify its flavors. Once it comes out of the oven, you crack open the salt bed, brush off any excess salt and fillet it. I’m telling you, the flavor is amazing, and it’s a fun way to cook a healthful meal!
If you can’t find branzino, dorade has a very similar flavor and texture and also hails from the great Mediterranean. Dorade is a bit shorter and wider/rounder and would be wonderful cooked this way too. Look for the freshest kind you can find. Enjoy, prijatno!
Above, left to right: The fish is prepped with lemon and herbs tucked inside and laid over the salt bed; the fish is then covered with the rest of the salt cake and ready to roast; 25 minutes later, the fish is cooked and you can break open the salt bed with a wooden spoon, brush off any extra salt grains, fillet, and eat (with a little drizzle of good olive oil and a pinch of fresh herbs).
Salt-Roasted Whole Fish with Lemon and Herbs
Adapted from Anne Burrell’s recipe on the Food Network
- 2 lemons, 1 zested and juiced; 1 sliced into thin rounds
- 1 bunch fresh thyme, half picked and half left whole, plus a pinch extra for garnish (or other fresh herbs of choice)
- 4 fresh bay leaves, coarsely snipped using scissors
- 3 cloves garlic, smashed
- 9 egg whites
- 8 cups kosher salt
- Two 1-lb whole fish (roughly 450 g., such as branzino or dorade, insides cleaned and fins and gills removed with kitchen shears; we left the tail and trickier fins on and it was fine)
- High-quality olive oil, for finishing
- Preheat the oven to 450 F/ 230 C
- In a food processor or blender, blend together the lemon juice and zest, the picked thyme, chopped bay leaves and garlic (add a bit of the egg whites if it needs more liquid to blend together); blend it until it becomes a thick paste. Add the rest of the egg whites and blend again until foamy and well incorporated (a few minutes). Then combine this mixture in a large bowl with the salt and mix well (I found doing this with clean hands worked best).
- In a baking sheet or roasting pan, spread less than half of the salt-cake mixture on the bottom, then place the fish on top. Stuff the inside of the fish with the lemon rounds and whole branches of herbs, then cover the top and sides with the remaining salt mixture. Press firmly to create a crust encasing all of the fish, ensuring there are no gaps or air bubbles.
- Roast the fish for 25 minutes; use a thermometer to poke through the salt cake in a few places to confirm the internal temperature of the fish is at a minimum of 145 degrees F (Ours was 165 at that point, and it tasted just right when we ate it). Let it rest for 10 minutes.
- Use a wooden spoon or mallet to crack open the salt cake and carefully remove the fish. Use a brush or clean towel to remove any excess salt and then transfer the fish to a cutting board. Fillet the fish by first removing the skin on top, then using a butter knife to slide under the top fillet right above the spine and transferring that fillet to a plate. Remove the spine from the tail end, then use the knife to remove the bottom fillet, leaving the skin behind. Repeat for second fish.
- Drizzle just a bit of good olive oil over the fillets, garnish with a pinch of fresh herbs, and enjoy.
June 2, 2014 at 3:05 pm
I have never actually tried this salting method, but I am intrigued. Next time I get some really fresh fish, I will give it a try.
June 3, 2014 at 11:01 am
Great, hope you try it. Our fish wasn’t even the freshest I would like, but cooking it this way was delicious. I think you’ll like trying it!
June 2, 2014 at 3:29 pm
This is a very nice and tasty way of cooking fish, I will try it! 🙂
June 3, 2014 at 11:03 am
Do give it a try, it feels strange using all that salt but it’s a great way to encase the fish and intensify all the delicious flavors of it with the lemon & herbs 🙂
June 3, 2014 at 3:00 pm
I think it is a very tasty and different way of cooking the fish, I will definitely try it! 🙂
June 2, 2014 at 3:46 pm
I have always been intrigued by salt baking and have wanted to try it. I love Branzino, it’s mild and delicious and is the perfect fish for this method. I have to give this a try.
June 3, 2014 at 11:06 am
Yes, branzino is so mild and delicious as you say. I was really happy to learn that it’s one of the most sustainable species and does well even in old aqua farms around Cyprus, Greece & Turkey that are environmentally sound, so I feel even better choosing it 🙂
June 2, 2014 at 4:09 pm
One of the best ways to prepare a fish. It looks great!
June 3, 2014 at 11:07 am
Thanks, I really enjoyed this one – both the salt encasing and the eating part!
June 2, 2014 at 7:00 pm
This is an awesome recipe. I’ve been meaning to do it. Do you find it tastes saltier than just baked whole fish? Is it too salty? Perfect? I may try this with a dorade. 🙂 Lovely photos.
June 3, 2014 at 10:59 am
Thanks, Amanda! My hubby and I were so eager to dig in that we weren’t careful in getting all the salt grains off; we figured it would just fall away as we took the skin off and filleted it. In the end, he had a few bites that bordered on oversalty, he said. The one I had (the first one we filleted) was perfect for me, not salty at all. I think if you’re meticulous in rubbing/brushing the excess salt off, it won’t get on the fish and the fish itself doesn’t absorb too much salt from the cooking. The flavor is amazing! The night we had this, I couldn’t stop raving about it and I guess I was still talking about it in my sleep. (Hubby said I kept saying, “That fish was sooo good!” lol) I think you’ll enjoy it!
June 2, 2014 at 9:54 pm
I’ve always wanted to try this at home…yours sounds delicious!
June 3, 2014 at 11:18 am
Thanks, Nancy, and great to see you here. I hope you are getting some good r&r at home now and please know we’re all supporting you! xo
June 3, 2014 at 7:02 am
Have you ever tried this method with prime rib, Laura? I’ve heard good things about it!
June 3, 2014 at 11:00 am
Wow, no, I’ve never heard of that! I’ll have to check it out 🙂
June 8, 2014 at 1:53 am
This is the best way to taste fish, no doubt!
June 12, 2014 at 11:36 am
Thanks, I’m happy you think so 🙂 We had it again with dorade and it was lovely. Hope you’re having a great week!
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