Five years ago, I was sick in bed watching re-runs of Top Chef. It was a reunion episode, where they bring back a few chefs from each season, and they all cooked and made a beautiful dinner. Marcel’s (anyone remember him?) contribution was a whole fish baked in a salt crust, then cracked open and served with a squeeze of fresh lemon. It was super simple, but it was so unique. I had never seen anything like it before. I grabbed my journal, wrote “SALT BAKE” in big, black letters, and didn’t get around to trying one until yesterday afternoon.
As I mentioned, a salt bake is incredibly easy. Six egg whites, three cups of salt and a hot oven will give you the best fish of your life.
I chose Branzini for my fish, but you can use any firm white fish you love. I asked the guy behind the fish counter to clean and gut the fish for me, so all I had to do when I got home was stuff the cavity with fresh thyme, and get it into the oven.
Egg whites/salt pre-bake.
1 whole Branzini – cleaned, gutted, scales and fins removed
1 bunch of fresh thyme
1 lemon, cut into wedges
3 cups kosher salt
6 egg whites
Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
Stuff the cavity of the fish with the fresh thyme sprigs. Refrigerate until you have finished the egg white mixture and the oven is preheated.
In a a medium sized mixing bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold in the salt, a little at a time, until it’s all combined.
Spread a small amount of the egg white mixture onto the bottom of a shallow baking pan, nestling the fish on top. Gently scoop the egg whites on top of the fish, covering it completely.
Bake for 30 minutes, until the egg whites are hard and golden brown.
Let the fish sit for 10 minutes, then gently crack the crust with a wooden spoon, discarding the salt crust. Remove the fish, and serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
**Cooking a whole fish means there will be bones. Branzini bones are relatively big, so they’re easy to pick out. Just be careful!**