Fit for a Fish­er­man

SAVEUR - - Range -

Lo­cals credit Span­ish fish­er­men with the cre­ation of this dish: Dur­ing their days at sea, they’d place a whole fish on a mar­ble slab, bury it in salt, and cook it over a small fire. It was sim­ple and prac­ti­cal, and in­volved just two abun­dant and ac­ces­si­ble in­gre­di­ents

Salt-baked Sea Bream with Al­li­oli SERVES 4; Photo p. 54 Ac­tive: 45 min. • To­tal: 1 hr.

The most clas­sic of the re­gion’s a la sal (baked in salt) dishes is made with gilt-head bream, a sil­ver fish with a dis­tin­guish­ing gold spot on its cheeks (do­rada means “golden” in Span­ish). Grouper, snap­per, sea bass, or other va­ri­eties with a thick skin also work well; al­ways use whole fish rather than fil­lets. Al­li­oli is a tra­di­tional Cat­alo­nian gar­li­cand-oil sauce that is clas­si­cally served with the re­sult­ing ten­der fil­lets. Although less tra­di­tional, blend­ing in a raw egg helps thicken and emul­sify the sauce for a richer con­sis­tency. FOR THE AL­LI­OLI: 2 medium gar­lic cloves, mashed to a paste 1 large egg, at room tem­per­a­ture ¾ tsp. white wine vine­gar Kosher salt Freshly ground white pep­per 1 cup olive oil

FOR THE FISH: Two 1-lb. whole sea bream (do­rada), gut­ted and scaled 4½ lb. (12¼ cups) coarse sea salt or coarse kosher salt 3 large egg whites 1 Make the al­li­oli: In a small food pro­ces­sor or blender, add the gar­lic, egg, vine­gar, and a pinch of kosher salt and white pep­per. With the mo­tor run­ning, trickle in the oil in a very slow but steady stream un­til all has been in­cor­po­rated and the emul­sion has thick­ened to the con­sis­tency of a loose may­on­naise, 1–2 min­utes. Cover with plas­tic wrap and re­frig­er­ate un­til ready to serve, at least 20 min­utes and up to 2 days.

2 Mean­while, pre­pare the fish: Pre­heat the oven to 400°F and line a large rimmed bak­ing sheet with foil. Cover the fish’s belly cav­ity with a small piece of foil to keep salt from en­ter­ing.

3 In a large bowl, add the salt and egg whites, and mix with your hands un­til the mix­ture feels like slightly damp sand. Spread about half the salt in a layer about ½-inch thick across the bot­tom of the bak­ing sheet, pat­ting it down gen­tly and evenly. Lay the fish on top with at least 2 inches be­tween them. Cover with the re­main­ing salt in an even layer, pat­ting it down gen­tly. Care­fully, and with­out shift­ing the packed salt, trans­fer to the oven and bake un­til the fish are just cooked through and the salt has formed a firm shell, 15–18 min­utes.

4 Trans­fer to a work sur­face and use a wooden mal­let or ham­mer to care­fully tap the salt shell un­til it cracks into pieces. Pull the large chunks of crust away from the fish, then quickly and gen­tly brush away any salt gran­ules that cling to the skin.

5 Re­trieve the al­li­oli and rewhisk briefly. Taste and ad­just the sea­son­ing as needed. Trans­fer the fish to a cut­ting board and fil­let each, re­mov­ing any vis­i­ble bones. Serve hot or warm, with the al­li­oli on the side.

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