Salt baked fish is a centuries-old technique where the salt forms a crust while baking, trapping in heat and moisture and leaving behind a tender and juicy fish that might otherwise end up dry. Here's how to cook a salt baked fish to perfection!
Salt baked fish has a long history across various continents. Hundreds of years ago, this cooking technique would have been very expensive due to the amount of salt it requires, especially for larger foods.
Laura over at Silk Road Gourmet did historic research on salt baked fish to find the origins, which is quite fascinating. Here's a NY Times article from 1982 talking about the salt crust baking technique as well.
Want to know how to make a salt baked fish yourself? Here's how to do it.
1. Gut the fish.
Note: I didn't do this myself. We buy our fish from a dock locally, and they do it for us. If your groceries' fish and meat department offers whole fish, they should be willing to do this for you as well. I'll save the fish-gutting tutorial for another post!
2. Lay the fish out flat.
You'll want to line the pan with foil, and then lay the fish out flat on the pan. If you're making more than one salt baked fish at a time, you'll want to make sure they have room around them and aren't right up on top of each other.
3. Mix your salt crust.
The super secret mix here is...are you ready for it? Salt, and water. That's it.
I started with 4 cups of salt and 1 cup of water. There's no perfect "recipe" for this mixture - you just need to get it to the point of wet sand, where when you push it together, it stays! If it crumbles apart, add more water a bit at a time until you have the right consistency.
It will vary slightly depending on the salt you're using, but it should look something like this:
4. Coat your fish.
Dump the bowl of salt mixture out onto your fish, and smooth it around with your hands. Pack it down, making sure all of the fish is evenly covered as best as you can.
If you're baking multiple fish, give them each their own individual salt crust.
5. Smooth it out, but don't obsess.
Check for any major cracks or holes. You won't be able to get them all, but if you see any large ones, pat them down and try and seal them up.
You want to bake for approximately 25 minutes for every inch of thickness, so cooking time will vary, depending on how thick your fish is. Once it's done and you take it out of the oven, you may have some curious onlookers!
7. Break open the salt crust.
The salt will be dry and hard, and you're going to have to crack it to start breaking it off. I whacked it with the edge of this spoon, but you could use a mallet or other kitchen tool.
Once it starts breaking off in chunks, you can start pulling them off with your hands. You want to pull off and brush away as much of the salt as you can.
Moms, heads up! Kids love to help with this part. The smashing is fun and they can't really do it wrong. My 2 year old loved helping and watching me pull the salt away from the fish.
Once you've brushed off most of the salt, my recommendation is to serve and eat the fish right away. It's not easy to store, and even more difficult to reheat. The excess amount of salt makes it a bit tough and dry if you store it.
If you eat the fish right away, it is tender and perfectly cooked. The skin should peel off easily. I recommend just putting a platter with the foil on it on the table, or even just putting the pan directly on the table and letting everyone eat and serve from it!
Fish isn't the only thing you can cook in a salt crust! Check out my post on How To Bake Chicken in a Salt Crust here.
What else have you tried cooking in a salt crust?
- Preheat the oven to 400°.
- Make sure the fish is gutted. Your grocery fish department should handle this for you, but you can also do it yourself.
- Line a baking sheet with foil, then lay the fish out flat on the foil. If you have more than one fish, give them room around each other.
- Make your salt crust by combining your salt and water. The ratio of water to salt will depend on the amount and type of salt needed. I started with 4 cups of salt and 1 cup of water, but this will vary. Mix until you have the consistency of wet sand that stays together.
- Cover the fish completely with the salt crust. Make sure it is evenly coated, and there are no major cracks or holes. You're looking to trap all the heat and moisture inside the crust, so you don't want any places it can escape.
- Bake the salt covered fish at 400° for 25 minutes for every inch of thickness.
- Remove from the oven and crack the crust open with a mallet or spoon.
- Remove all large chunks of the salt crust and brush away any residual salt, then serve immediately.
Do not try to remove the fish from the foil. You may be able to carefully lift the foil from the pan and place it onto a serving tray or platter, but the fish will not come off the foil in one piece. It is super-tender and will fall apart on you. Serve the fish directly from the foil!
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