Pesce al Sale (Fish in a Salt Crust)

Sometimes the simplest preparations are the tastiest! And this one is for sure….take the freshest fish you can buy, stuff lightly and bake in a salt crust …incredible!  I have used this technique once before when my brother and I were cooking for our Feast of the Seven Fishes.  With company visiting from Italy this past weekend, I thought it would be fun to try this simple preparation again. The final presentation never fails to impress and the dish is incredibly simple to prepare. In a nutshell, buy the freshest fish you can at the fish market. Have your fishmonger clean the fish and cut away the fins.  Stuff the fish.  Bury it in a mound of salt.  Bake in the oven and allora, the fish is ready!  In the spirit of full disclosure, the photo above is from when my brother and I made the dish for Seven Fishes last year (my photos of my fish this time around were awful!). However, the salt-encrusted beauty below is from this go around – look, I even tried to use a little olive to make a fish eye (it is a stretch, I know!!)  So, if you are looking for an easy and beautiful presentation, give this recipe a try. And the fish comes out unbelievably mouth-watering moist! Buon appetito!!

Pesce al Sale (Fish in a Salt Crust)


 1 3-4 pound whole fresh fish  (such as a salmon, trout, sea bass), scaled, cleaned and de-finned by your fishmonger

2 lemons, thinly sliced

2 leeks, cleaned and diced

Fresh sprigs of thyme and parsley

Freshly ground black pepper

4-5 egg whites

1/2 cup cold water

2 large boxes of coarse kosher sea salt (do not substitute!)



1 large cookie sheet or tray – large enough to hold the fish covered in salt

1 large bowl

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit.  Rinse and dry the fish thoroughly.  Stuff the cavity of the fish with the thinly sliced lemon, overstuff so as to allow the fish to lay fairly flat. Sprinkle the cavity with freshly ground black pepper.  

In a large bowl, mix together 4 of the egg whites and the water.  Add in the salt. Using your hands, work the salt mixture until it holds together when you press onto your palm. The mixture should be the consistency of wet sand.  If too dry, add in another egg white.

Place about 1/3 of the salt mixture on the bottom of the baking pan to form a “bed” for the fish. Place the fish on top of the bed. Cover the fish with the remaining salt mixture. Using your hands, smooth or mold the salt over the fish to completely enclose. If feeling whimisical, you can use an olive to form a fish eye :o).

Bake for 40 minutes.  Remove the fish from the oven.  Crack the salt crust with a mallet or spatula.  The salt topping should just lift or crack off.  Peel the skin of the fish using a small knife or fork.  Serve fish on warm plates with plenty of lemon slices. Enjoy!!

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