Now don't panic at the sound of this—you don't actually eat any of the salt! The idea is that you encase the fish in damp salt before putting it in the oven. During cooking, the salt dries out again, forming a hard crust right around the fish, meaning that all the moisture is kept inside the fish as it cooks. After cooking, the crust breaks away in big pieces and you're left with a really juicy fish to eat. Using a bit of egg white and water to moisten the salt helps keep the crust in bigger, easier-to-handle pieces.
Fish must be whole to be cooked in salt, so don't make any cuts in your cleaned and gutted fish. If you do, the salt will get into the flesh and it will be too salty to eat. Don't worry about the cut in the fish belly—it will be protected from the salt by the herbs you've stuffed inside.
Servings: Serves 2
- 2 egg whites
- 9 pounds coarse rock salt or sea salt
- 2 whole porgy or grouper , 1 pound 2 ounces, each, cleaned and gutted
- olive oil
- bunch fresh rosemary
- bunch fresh thyme
Preheat the oven to 400°. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks and stir into the salt. Add a few tablespoons of water and mix until the salt is damp throughout but not wet. Pack half of your salt into the bottom of a baking dish, making a layer about 1/ 2-inch thick. Rub your fish all over with olive oil and stuff each cavity with a few rosemary and thyme sprigs. Don’t go overboard with the rosemary though as it can dominate the flavor of the fish. Lay the fish on top of the salt and completely cover it with the rest of the salt, patting it down and patching it in places where you can still see bits of the fish skin. If your roasting pan seems a little too small to hold both fish, don’t worry. You can leave the head and tail sticking out of the salt at either end; it’s the body of the fish that needs to be buried.
Put the fish into the preheated oven. A couple of 1 lb. 2 oz. fish, as here, need about 20 minutes; for a 2 lb. fish, you’ll need to give it 30 to 35 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the oven, take the tray to the table and let the fish rest—for a couple of minutes for a small fish and up to 10 minutes for a larger fish. To serve, crack the salt crust open and brush any excess salt away. Remove the herbs from the insides of each fish, then peel the skin off the body,leaving it on at the head and tail.
Fish cooked in this way is always best served with simple sides (or side dishes) like salads (shaved fennel salad is particularly good), spinach or braised zucchini.
This recipe is taken from Cook with Jamie by Jamie Oliver (Hyperion). © Jamie Oliver, 2007