A salt-crusted whole fish makes an impressive dinner party entrée, but it’s also easy enough to make for a weeknight meal with active prep time of only 10 minutes. Don’t be intimidated by the amount of salt called for in the recipe: you’re using it to create a crust that locks in moisture to allow the fish to steam in its own juices. The end result is not a salty dish at all, but is instead an incredibly flavorful, moist fish.
This recipe is incredibly versatile and forgiving. Add your favorite aromatics and herbs to the cavity of the fish, use a different flavor of olive oil, or even use a different type of fish to customize the recipe to your taste. Try using chopped fennel, fresh thyme, or a pinch of red pepper flakes. Keep it subtle though, as you don’t want to overwhelm the flavor of the fish itself. You also don’t have to worry about overcooking the fish, as it’s nearly impossible to dry the fish out using this method!
You can use any whole fish, but be sure to adjust your cooking times accordingly. Smaller fish, such as trout or branzino, will be 1-2 pounds each and will only require about 30 minutes in the oven. Larger fish, like red snapper, will be 3-4 pounds each and will require 35-40 minutes to cook. When planning the meal, assume about ½ pound of fish per person. The photos show two one-pound branzino, cooked for 30 minutes. It was perfect for four people with a few sides.
Salt-crusted fish is delicious with herbed rice, roasted vegetables (try some of that beautiful asparagus that’s popping up in markets now!), a lovely salad, or spiralized zucchini.
- 8 egg whites
- 1 cup water
- 3 pounds kosher sea salt
- 1 lemon (Meyer lemon would be amazing if you can find them)
- Whole fish, cleaned (such as red snapper, branzino, or trout)
- Milanese Gremolata Olive Oil (You can also substitute your favorite Single Varietal Extra Virgin Olive Oil)
- 1 bunch Italian flat-leaf parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the oven rack in the center of the oven.
- Combine the egg whites, water, and salt in a large bowl. Use your hands to combine the mixture until it has the texture of wet sand.
- Use a sheet pan large enough to accommodate your fish. Spray with nonstick cooking spray and spread half of the salt mixture on a sheet pan. Press into a 1/2 inch layer big enough to rest the fish on.
- Thinly slice half of the lemon, and zest the other half for garnishing.
- Drizzle the cavity of the fish with Milanese Gremolata Olive Oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange the lemon slices in a layer inside the cavity and stuff with a small handful of parsley leaves torn from the stem. Drizzle Milanese Gremolata Olive Oil on the outside of the fish. Be sure to coat season both sides.
- Place the fish on the salt bed. Pile the remaining salt mixture on top of the fish. Use your hands to mold the salt around the entire fish, creating a sealed crust.
- To cook one to two-pound fish, roast for 30 minutes. Add 5 minutes for every additional pound per fish (35 minutes for three-pound fish, 40 minutes for four-pound fish. The crust should be golden brown and hard.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Use the side of a spoon to crack the edges of the salt crust around the entire fish. Peel the top off (it should come off in large pieces). To fillet, make cuts with a sharp knife along the top of the fish and down the sides next to head and tail. Peel the skin off, as it's very salty! If using large fish, cut the filets into smaller portions. Use a spatula to separate the flesh from the bones (the meat should release easily). Flip the fish over and repeat with the opposite side. Place the fillets on dinner plates, drizzle with more olive oil, then top with chopped parsley and lemon zest.