Fish Baked in Salt Crust on the Barbecue

These photos go back two summers, I’ve had them in my photo album with the idea of repeating the experience this summer.  I would then take a lovely shot of the plated fish set on a stylised table with the backdrop of the green outlook of my garden.  I have no idea what happen to this summer.  It has either been wet and cold or we’ve had a few days at 35C (95F) which did not conjure up the thought for me of firing up the barbecue.

There is more than one way of salt baking fish often with eggs whites mixed with the coarse sea salt, it forms a more uniform crust easier to cover the tricky bits of the fish but here I tried it with just salt sprinkled with water to moisten the top layer of salt ever-so-slightly to make it stick.  The reason I didn’t follow the egg white method was because I couldn’t be bothered to look up how many egg whites to how much salt, I just went with my instinct of ‘lets see what happens’.

The rules for the normal recipe of fish baked in a sea salt crust are simple, make sure it’s coarse sea salt and the fish has the skin to protect itself from the salt.  There are other ways of baking fish in salt crust where you can bake fillets like Giorgio Locatelli does and I will be posting that recipe next.

Here I used a big wild seat trout but any fish left whole can be used that I can think of.  The idea of this is you are baking the fish in its own juices and I can not think of a fish with skin where this type of cooking wouldn’t suit.  

I don’t remember now exactly how big the sea trout was but it was a big one I suspect something like 2-3 kg and in this respect my only problem with the recipe is the cost of sea salt you need, especially as it’s something to be thrown away afterwards.

My idea was to put it on the barbecue choosing a robust roasting tin and laying a foundation of coarse sea salt.  I had to cut the head off to make it fit otherwise would have left it on.  I gathered up the salt around the fish added some more to enclose the fish totally.  Then with minimum sprinkling of water over the top to seal in the fish.  The best way for me to sprinkle without over-wetting the salt making it melt was to wet my hands and using them to shake off the excess water over the salt.  I then gently pressed the salt down.

When the barbecue was ready on gentle steady heat on went the the fish, closed the lid of the barbecue and left it to bake for about 35-40mins.  After which time I poked through a little hole by the tail end to make sure it was baked.

The crust sets together pretty well and makes it easy to remove leaving the skin intact and beautifully moist inside.

Is Salt Crust Worth the Cost?

This for me is a dish to impress as in it makes a grand entrance to a table presenting a whole fish cooked in a naturally designed package and as such it works beautifully.  If you ask me whether it’s worth the large cost of the sea salt I’m not convinced judging it on that basis.  For example if I enclosed the fish in a salt bread crust or similarly cheaper way I’m not sure this is way is better or produces better results.

I remember reading some time back in Linda’s blog about the theory of salt crust being more than simply steaming the produce, the salt allows it to be roasted at the same time because of its structured is not completely sealed.  If I recall correctly this theory came from the renowned food scientist Hervé This but I do have a flaky memory.  Linda was the one who made me bake beetroot (beet) in a sugar crust here, producing the most amazing beetroot syrup ever.

I can see how cooking En Papillote, the method of a parcel made out parchment creates a head of steam so when you open the parcel up rises this steam hitting your nose and delivery it’s lovely aroma, in that respect this is a drier method of cooking.  I found it difficult to say this method made the fish more delicious than any other enclosed method.  Maybe in a side by side test you would chose one way over the other but that’s not how we eat normally.

My opinion is, cook fish this way at least once so you can experience the “ooh…ahh..” moment when it’s put on the table…for that it’s worth it!

I served the fish with Caponata, a dish served at room temperature making it easy to prepare ahead and ideal for outdoor eating. 

Two years ago the 4 year old was 2 years old, and it doesn’t seem that long ago, here she’s playing with her oldest sister.  

I wish then someone was able to tell us she would walk and stop us from worrying so much.