A VAULT OF SALT

SAVEUR - - Range -

Although the quan­tity of salt re­quired might seem star­tling at first, rest as­sured you can tuck a whole meal’s worth of sides around your main course. Root veg­eta­bles like onions, shal­lots, or pota­toes will roast down to a per­fectly sea­soned, no-fuss side dish as they bake. Scat­ter veg­gies—skins and all—around the cen­ter­piece, leav­ing at least an inch be­tween them, be­fore bury­ing it all be­neath its blan­ket of salt.

Step 1: Mix the Salt

Be­gin with very coarse salt; there are peb­bly, ex­tra-coarse ver­sions in Spain, but coarse kosher works just fine. You will need about 4–5 pounds. Use your hands to mix the salt with egg whites in a large bowl un­til it feels like damp sand. The egg helps the salt form a hard shell dur­ing bak­ing, mak­ing it eas­ier to re­move in large pieces. (If you feel con­fi­dent, you can moisten the salt with wa­ter in­stead of egg whites, as the fish­er­men do.)

Step 2: Form the Salt Crust

Line a rimmed bak­ing sheet or roast­ing pan with a piece of parch­ment pa­per, then spread around enough of the salt mix­ture to form a layer about half an inch thick. Gen­tly pat it down to pack evenly. Lay the fish, meat, or what­ever you are bak­ing on top, then cover com­pletely with enough salt to fully bury and seal the in­gre­di­ents in an even layer at least ½-inch thick. Gen­tly pat down the top layer to pack evenly.

Step 3: Bake

Care­fully, with­out shift­ing the salt, trans­fer the pan to a hot oven (425°F). A high tem­per­a­ture en­cour­ages a firm shell to form quickly, en­sur­ing no fla­vors or mois­ture can es­cape. The salt crust might brown slightly and be­gin to crack in some places. How­ever tempt­ing, do not pry open the shell to check for done­ness. Fol­low recipe times closely, or es­ti­mate about 15 min­utes per pound for whole fish and about 1 hour for a 2-pound roast.

Step 4: Re­move the Crust

Re­move the pan from the oven, and let cool just slightly. Us­ing a heavy wooden spoon or kitchen mal­let, break the hot crust into large chunks. Hot steam will es­cape, so pull off the pieces care­fully. Sweep aside loose grains, and gen­tly lift out the buried item. (For whole fish, it may be eas­ier to lift out just the fil­lets.) Work­ing quickly to keep the warm juices from dis­solv­ing any salt, brush away any cling­ing grains with a pas­try brush.

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