Cracking Up

We had quite a busy weekend! Saturday was a big shopping day because we decided to drive up to the new Ikea by PDX to try and find a new bookshelf for our literary overflow. We’d never been in an Ikea before, and it was quite an experience, almost like a ride, a little overwhelming. In the end, we did find some bookshelves (though—of course—we ended up bringing home the wrong size, so we’ll have to go back again) and a shoe shelf to put next to the front door, and I only refrained from buying elderflower soda and cloudberry preserves and Daim candies because of how much we had just spent on furniture. We did get some glass mason jars for grain and legume storage, though.

After that adventure, we had just enough space in the car to stop by Whole Foods for some groceries. We loaded up on yogurt and produce, and made some very profitable stops by the meat counter and the fish counter, so you should be seeing some more interesting meals appearing on the blog to make up for the recent blandness. With no further ado, I present to you… Whole Snapper Roasted in a Salt Crust.

Crimson snapper

This is a crimson snapper. We’ve gotten whole silk snapper from Whole Foods before, and I cooked it very successfully in a parchment packet. That was initially the plan when we picked out this guy, but once we got back home and I started flipping through my copy of Molto Italiano, I changed gears and broke out the rock salt instead.

Rock salt

I’ve cooked whole fish a few times before, as I said, so I’m feeling a little more confident about it now, but I’m not much less squeamish. The very helpful woman at the fish counter offered to scale the snapper for us, and I gratefully took her up on it. But I still had to deal with the fins and tail on my own, and after watching The Evil Dead and the first part of Dead Alive on the Monsters HD channel, I was very nearly feeling too grossed out to cook something that was staring back at me.

Crimson snapper

Somehow I got through it, though I’m quite sure I made some gruesome faces during the preparation. Once the fish was buried in salt and roasting, Jeremy made some jasmine rice while I worked on a skilletful of broccoli a la Lidia to go with the fish.

Crimson snapper

The salt crust hardened up nicely. What it didn’t do so nicely was break into two whole pieces so we could remove the fish. There must be some special technique to cracking it open. We ended up having to crumble the salt crust up and sift the fish out of it, but Jeremy used a light touch and it emerged, still whole, without much damage.

Crimson snapper

Jeremy did a beautiful job of filleting the fish, and we got it all plated up. It tasted delicious, very flavorful but not fishy, and absolutely tender and succulent. Between avoiding the stray bones and chunks of rock salt, though, actually extracting bites of fish to eat was a picky eater’s nightmare, though. It was certainly fun to try, and I might attempt a salt crust again with a different type of meat, but my belief in the parchment packet as the ideal vehicle for cooking whole fish is totally reaffirmed.

Crimson snapper skeleton

Whole Fish Baked in a Salt Crust (Pesce al Sale)

1 4-5 lb whole snapper or salmon, cleaned (gutted, scaled, fins and tail removed)
4 lb coarse or kosher salt
2 egg whites
Lemon wedges and olive oil, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 475F. In a large bowl, mix the egg whites into the salt until it is uniformly moistened. Spread about a third of the salt on the bottom of a large rectangular or oval baking dish, place the fish on top, and cover it completely with the rest of the salt mixture, covering it completely.

Place the dish in the oven, turn the heat down to 400F, and roast for 20-30 minutes (or about 10 minutes for every inch of thickness at the fish’s widest part). Remove from the oven, use a hammer or the handle of a knfe to crack open the salt crust, and remove the fish to fillet it. Serve garnished with lemon and drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Source: Adapted slightly from Molto Italiano, by Mario Batali.

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