Whole Striped Bass Baked in Salt Crust
- 4 Cups kosher salt
- 6 large egg whites
- 4 sprigs thyme, tarragon, or rosemary
- One 5-pound striped bass or other fish, gutted, scaled, rinsed, and patted dry
- 4 thin lemon slices
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 bay leaf
This ancient technique is easy, produces an impressive presentation, and results in the most lush, juicy fish you've ever tasted. The salt crust traps moisture, allowing the fish to steam in its own juices along with the aromas of lemon and herbs. The skin keeps the salt from getting to the meat. Striped bass is a great fish, sort of a cross between flaky and steaky; this technique also works well with red snapper, porgy, grouper, or branzino. The only thing that might be a little tricky for a first-timer, here, is filleting the fish to get the flesh off the bones. Don't worry — when food tastes this good, it doesn't need to look perfect.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Line a large baking sheet with foil (otherwise, the egg-salt mixture will all but ruin the pan). In a large bowl, stir together the salt and egg whites until evenly mixed. Stuff the herbs inside the cavity of the fish, along with the lemon slices, garlic, and bay leaf.
Make a thin layer of salt crust in the pan large enough to accommodate the fish. Put the fish on top, and pack salt on and around it (some cooks like to keep the head visible, while others prefer to hide it; consider the tenderness of your guests' sensibilities when deciding).
Bake until an instant-read thermometer reads 135 degrees in the thickest part of the fish (punch the probe right through the crust), for 30-40 minutes. Remove the fish from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
To serve, with a sharp knife, make a horizontal cut in the side of the crust from nose to tail. Using a large fork or tongs, you should be able to lift off the crust in more or less 1 piece. (You can also crack it with a utensil.)
Using the fork or a knife, gently scrape away the skin (it will come right off); then, using a fish spatula, gently lift out the first fillet, trying not to bring along bones. The second fillet is easier; grab the fish by the tail, and the bones, spine, and head should lift right off, leaving an intact, boneless fillet. Serve immediately.
Note: You can try this technique with a smaller fish for two, or with a whole salmon for a crowd, scaling the crust up or down as needed.
Experiment with salt-crusted vegetables, such as beets and potatoes, or beef tenderloin.