Pesce al Sale – Whole Fish Baked in Sea Salt

Pesce al Sale 003

I often prepare a whole fish in sea salt when we entertain friends. This is a dish that is surprisingly easy to prepare despite its dramatic presentation. The entire fish is encased in sea salt, baked in the oven and presented whole at the table. Its hardened crust of sea salt and egg white is cracked open to reveal a succulent, steaming and aromatic fish.  Have your fishmonger clean and descale the fish when you purchase it. The fish can be baked simply as is, or stuffed with a combination of lemon slices, garlic, and fennel fronds. Serve the fillets drizzled with your best extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon. It’s also a good time to break out the special sea salt flakes or fleur de sel that you may be saving for a special occasion.

Pesce al Sale filets

Whole Fish Baked in Sea Salt – Pesce al Sale

Serves 6

One whole fish, 5 to 6 pounds, such as snapper, rock cod, or sea bass, cleaned, gutted, and scaled
1 lemon, sliced
2 to 3 fennel fronds, cut into 3-inch pieces
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 pounds coarse sea salt
2 large egg whites

Extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon wedges
Sea salt flakes
Parsley Gremolata (see below)

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F (225°C)
2. Pat the fish dry with a paper towel. Place the lemon slices, fennel, and garlic in the cavity of the fish, without over-stuffing.
3. Combine the salt and egg whites in a bowl and mix well to moisten the salt. Spread 1/3 of the salt mixture on the bottom of a large baking dish. Lay the fish on top. Pour the remaining salt over the fish, covering completely. (The tail can remain exposed if needed.)
4. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until an instant read thermometer reads 135°F. (If the fish is stuffed with lemon and fennel, it may require additional cooking time, approximately 10 minutes.)
5. Remove the fish from the oven and crack the crust open with a small hammer or knife. Remove and discard the crust. Lift away the skin and fillet the fish on one side, then flip the fish and repeat on the other side.
6. Arrange the fillets on warm serving plates. Drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon. Sprinkle with sea salt flakes and garnish with the parsley gremolata. Serve immediately.

Parsley Gremolata:
Combine 1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley, 1 minced garlic clove, and the finely grated zest of one untreated lemon in a bowl.  Season to taste with a pinch of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

*This recipe was chosen as the winner in a competition hosted by Food52 and will be published in their upcoming cookbook.  You can find this recipe and many other delicious recipes on their site, and have a chance to cast your votes for favorite recipes.

Whole Fish Baked in Sea Salt


3 thoughts on “Pesce al Sale – Whole Fish Baked in Sea Salt

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  2. It intimidated me, too, at first. Yet when I looked at recipes, it seemed simple – and it is! The key is to be able to properly fillet the fish once it’s cooked. That takes practice, which is all the reason to make this again and again.

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