Snapper al Sale
I have been dying to try this technique for cooking fish for ages. I was hesitant for so long and question why, maybe that voice in my head, really that voice lying in bed next to me, telling me that cooking fish was this complex and difficult task that took years to master. This lead me to believe that I would be a grandmother before I ever really mastered fish. So wrong that little voce napoletana was, so wrong he was.
A lot of people have this impression, that cooking fish is hard, but what I have learned in my brief experience and quick mastery is that there are two rules to follow, simple and quick. Keep your ingredients as simple as possible, you don’t want to over power the flavor of the fish. Quick because it takes a lot less time than you think and continues cooking after you have removed it from the heat source.
You have to use a whole fish when making this dish and it is important to use coarse salt. I used kosher salt, which I find to be milder than sea salt and a lot cheaper, you need about 4 pounds of salt. I found a few recipes for this, in American cookbooks and in several Italian cookbooks, out of sheer laziness I used my Mario Batali cookbook, which uses egg whites with the salt to create a hard crust when it is baking. Both the Silver Spoon and my Slow Food Fish book did not use them in the baking, interesting, I will have to try it without the next time I make this.
Snapper al Sale
adapted from Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano
- 4 pounds coarse sea salt or kosher salt
- 2 large egg whites
- one 4- to 5-pound snapper, cleaned or scaled
- lemon wedges
- extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Preheat oven to 475°F
Pour the salt into a large bowl, add the egg whites, and mix vigorously until the salt is evenly moistened. Spread one-third of the salt mixture over the bottom of a large rectangular or oval baking dish big enough to hold the fish. Place the fish on top, then cover it with the rest of the salt mixture, making sure it is completely covered.
Place the baking dish in the oven and reduce the heat to 400°F. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish- the rule of thumb is 10 minutes for every inch of thickness at the fish’s widest part. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Crack the crust open at the table with the handle of a knife or a small hammer, and lift it off. Fillet the fish on a separate dish, and serve with lemon wedges, drizzling the olive oil over the flesh.