Salt-Crusted Whole Fish

Baked, salt-crusted whole fish has been on my culinary to-do list for a long time. The concept sounds intriguing and actually kind of crazy. Burying a whole fish in a mound (pounds!) of salt – and it actually comes out edible? Juicy, no de-boning required, and extremely simple to prepare. Why have I waited so long? Let’s get going. So off I went to Whole Foods, and our favorite fishmonger fixed me up, removed the fins and eyeballs (thanks, Skot!), and I set to check this off the list.

The results? The effort required was minimal. The presentation was dramatic, and it was fun to crack the crust to reveal the fish. The fish easily flaked off the bones. The seasoning of the fish was pleasant, not overly salty. And, the fish was quite moist. But mushy. Icky mushy. Not at all flaky, as if it sat too long in an acidic marinade before being cooked. I was so disappointed. With all the research and reading I’d done, this is purportedly THE prefect and foolproof method for roasting a whole fish. What happened? Did I make a poor choice in the fish I purchased, and I read somewhere that fish get softer in the warmer months? Was it that, as usual, I didn’t follow ONE recipe, but in doing so much research I took snippets from many sources; perhaps the ratio of egg whites and water was off? Had I undercooked it, which is what I suspected, even though the salt was nicely browned?

I’ve chocked it up to a culinary experiment that went askew. Now I need to decide if I want to attempt it again. Something to ponder.
Whole Fish Baked in Salt
Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 3-pound cleaned scaled whole fish (such as whitefish or salmon), fins removed

1 cup thinly sliced leek (white and pale green parts only)
1 lemon, thinly sliced into rounds
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup water
2 26.5-ounce boxes coarse sea salt (6 cups)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon wedges

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 450°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with foil, leaving generous overhang. Combine first 3 ingredients in small skillet. Toast spices over medium heat until beginning to pop, stirring frequently, about 9 minutes. Cool spices. Coarsely crush in mortar with pestle or in heavy resealable plastic bag with mallet.

Rinse fish inside and out; pat dry. Sprinkle all of spice mixture in fish cavity. Stuff with leek and lemon slices.

Whisk egg whites and water in large bowl to blend. Add salt. Stir until salt is evenly moistened. Spread 2 cups salt mixture in 4-inch-wide, 12-inch-long strip (or use more to equal length of fish) on prepared sheet.
Place fish on salt. Cover fish completely with remaining salt mixture, pressing to seal.

Bake fish 25 minutes. Let stand in crust 10 minutes.

Using large knife, rap crust sharply to crack.
Brush salt from fish. Cut into portions and serve, passing extra-virgin olive oil and lemon wedges alongside.


  1. I've not made this dish, but I've had it. Good, but not outstanding, IMO. I think whole roasted fish done the regular way is better. This is a method I've always been intrigued with, however. I'll probably get around to it someday, but after reading your account, I'm not in a hurry. Kudos for trying this, and excellent post - thanks.

  2. Sorry it did not turn out the way you had hoped but glad you got a chance to tackle it. It's always dissapointing when something you were looking forward to does not turn out but even the best of cooks have mishaps.



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