15. MURCIA, SPAIN

In­spired by a fa­mous recipe in south­east­ern Spain, a writer learns that bak­ing meats and fish en­veloped in a salt crust is a fool­proof method for moist, fla­vor­ful dishes

SAVEUR - - Contents - BY JEFF KOEHLER

Bak­ing with salt,

on the edge of san pe­dro del pinatar, a fish­ing vil­lage in the Murcia re­gion of Spain’s Mediter­ranean coast, a vast, ir­reg­u­lar grid of salt flats juts out into the sea. Sea­wa­ter floods them each spring, then evap­o­rates each sum­mer, when work­ers come to rake out the white- and pink-tinged crys­tals and pile them in glis­ten­ing mounds to dry in the sun. These salt flats, or sali­nas, were cre­ated dur­ing the Ro­man Em­pire and have been in use ever since, pro­vid­ing sal to help sea­son, con­serve, and even bake—as is the case for one of Murcia’s most fa­mous dishes, do­rada a la sal. The re­gion’s fatty, suc­cu­lent sea bream, or do­rada, is baked whole in a crust of ex­tra-coarse salt, which hard­ens into a snug shell dur­ing bak­ing, al­low­ing the bream to steam en­tirely in its own juices. The re­sult is a moist, fla­vor­ful fish with ten­der white flakes (and, no, it doesn’t taste too salty).

As I’ve learned dur­ing my time liv­ing and cook­ing in Spain, salt bak­ing is widely adapt­able and works won­ders with whole shrimp and sar­dines, young chick­ens or Cor­nish hens, and even meaty or ro­bust veg­eta­bles such as egg­plant or onions. It ad­heres per­fectly to the gen­eral the­ory of cook­ing along the Span­ish coast, where the goal is to heighten, rather than dis­guise, the nat­u­ral fla­vors of the fresh­est in­gre­di­ents.

Whole fish are ideal for salt bak­ing; the in­tact skin and head helps pre­vent too much salt con­tact with the meat, in­stead keep­ing it ten­der and moist.

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