Fit for a Fisherman
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.