Branzino Baked in Salt

Branzino al sale (Branzino Baked in Salt)

In secondi piatti by Frank20 Comments

This will be a short post as I’ve come down with a nasty cold. No matter, since this is a short and simple recipe anyway, another example of the sublime simplicity of Italian cookery, branzino baked in salt. Yes, that’s what I said. Not to worry, the end result is not too salty at all, but perfectly seasoned. And wonderfully moist, as the salt crust that forms around the fish as it roasts locks in the fish’s natural juices.

Ingredients

Serves 2

  • 1 branzino (or other fish) about 500g (1 lb.), gutted but left whole
  • 750g (1-1/2 lbs.) sea salt (or kosher salt) or as much as you need to cover the fish

For stuffing the fish(optional):

  • A sprig of fresh rosemary, a sliced garlic clove or a few slices of lemon

For garnish:

  • Best quality olive oil
  • Lemon wedges
  • Freshly ground pepper (optional)
  • Chopped parsley (optional)

Directions:

In a large bowl, pour in the salt and sprinkle with a bit of water. Mix well with your hands, adding more water as needed, so that the salt is ever so slightly moistened and the grains of salt begin to adhere to each other. The texture of the salt will turn coarser, a bit like wet sand.

Lay down a ‘bed’ of salt in a roasting pan large enough to hold the fish. Then lay your fish down as pictured above. If you like, you can place a sprig of rosemary, a few bits of garlic or a few thin slices of lemon in the fish’s cavity. Or you can simply leave the fish be.

Cover the fish entirely with the rest of the salt. Roast in a very hot oven (220°C, 450°F) for 25-30 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.

Let the fish cool for a few minutes (no more than five, however, or the salt will begin to penetrate the fish). Crack open the salt, which will have formed a hard crust around the fish, and uncover the fish. The skin should adhere to the salt as you remove it. If not, skin the fish. If you’re careful (more careful than I’ve been here) you’ll be able to lift the fillets out whole, to the admiration and wonder of your dinner guests. This particular evening, I wasn’t in the mood…

Branzino al sale-2

Serve the fish fillets drizzled with some best quality olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon and, if you like, a good grinding of black pepper. Some people like to sprinkle the fish with some freshly chopped parsley for color.

Notes

Branzino baked in salt admits a few minor variations. Many recipes omit the first step of mixing the salt with liquid. Rather, the raw salt is simply piled up around the fish. That makes it much easier to get at the fish afterwards, as it does not form the same sort of hard crust. But that also means that the salt will tend to penetrate the fish, leaving a saltier taste. No bother for a salt fiend like myself, but some people might object. Interestingly, most English-language recipes for this dish call for mixing the salt with egg whites. Only one of the myriad Italian-language recipes I’ve seen call for this. Not sure why, nor have I tried to use egg whites—seems like a waste of good eggs!—so I can’t tell you what difference it may make.

Some recipes for branzino baked in salt also call for a lower roasting temperature and a longer cooking time. That also strikes me as a risky proposition. Obviously, though, if you use a much bigger fish, increase the cooking time accordingly.

Branzino (sea bass) is said to lend itself particularly well to this cooking method, but just about any fish will work, so long as it is not too small (500g/1 lb. is a kind of minimum) and is left whole. Fillets will not work, since the skin acts as a barrier against the salt and the bones add flavor and help retain the fish’s natural moisture. In fact, many recipes call for leaving the scales on the fish as well for added protection.

The salt? Sea salt is best—not the very expensive finishing salts, but bult sea salt that can be had at reasonable prices. But kosher salt also works fine. Finely grained table salt does not work—its fine grain would allow the saltiness to penetrate the fish and render it inedible. And a lot of table salt has chemical additives so it won’t clump together, but that is exactly what you want it to do for this dish.

The garnish, as far as I’m concerned, should be as simple as possible, so as not to distract too much from the pure flavor of the fish. But some people do like to serve branzino baked in salt with a kind of salsa verde, as they would poached fish—which strikes me as gilding the proverbial lily, but to each his (or her) own as they say…

Branzino al sale (Branzino Baked in Salt)

Rating: 51

Total Time: 45 minutes

Yield: Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 1 branzino (or other fish) about 500g (1 lb.), gutted but left whole
  • 750g (1-1/2 lbs.) sea salt (or kosher salt) or as much as you need to cover the fish
  • For stuffing the fish(optional):
  • A sprig of fresh rosemary, a sliced garlic clove or a few slices of lemon
  • For garnish:
  • Best quality olive oil
  • Lemon wedges
  • Freshly ground pepper (optional)
  • Chopped parsley (optional)

Directions

  1. In a large bowl, pour in the salt and sprinkle with a bit of water. Mix well with your hands, adding more water as needed, so that the salt is ever so slightly moistened and the grains of salt begin to adhere to each other. The texture of the salt will turn coarser, a bit like wet sand.
  2. Lay down a 'bed' of salt in a roasting pan large enough to hold the fish. Then lay your fish down as pictured above. If you like, you can place a sprig of rosemary, a few bits of garlic or a few thin slices of lemon in the fish's cavity. Or you can simply leave the fish be.
  3. Cover the fish entirely with the rest of the salt. Roast in a very hot oven (220°C, 450°F) for 25-30 minutes, depending on the size of the fish.
  4. Let the fish cool for a few minutes (no more than five, however, or the salt will begin to penetrate the fish). Crack open the salt, which will have formed a hard crust around the fish, and uncover the fish. The skin should adhere to the salt as you remove it. If not, skin the fish. If you're careful (more careful than I've been here) you'll be able to lift the fillets out whole, to the admiration and wonder of your dinner guests. This particular evening, I wasn't in the mood...
  5. Serve the fish fillets drizzled with some best quality olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon and, if you like, a good grinding of black pepper. Some people like to sprinkle the fish with some freshly chopped parsley for color.
http://memoriediangelina.com/2011/02/04/branzino-al-sale/

Comments

  1. This is fabulous recipe – I've heard many times of fish in salt recipes, but I've never dared to prepare one by myself. I guess I'll try it ones, especially Branzino (being my favorite fish) :-).

  2. Anything in a salt crust seems so intimidating to me and yet I constantly hear of how wonderful the recipes that require it turn out. This looks delicious.
    I hope you feel better soon.

  3. Thanks, guys, for all your good wishes! Just two days of rest and I was already up and at 'em today. Well, not counting my afternoon nap…

    As you will have seen, this 'fancy' dish is really very easy to make. You'll impress your friends, too! ;=)

    @Drick: I have no doubt your chicken soup would cure anything that ails a body. Too bad you can't FedEx soup… or can you?

    @Chef Doc: Cuídate!

    @Claudia: I couldn't say if a large fillet with the skin on would work, to be honest. I'm doubtful, but if you try it, do let us know how it turns out.

    @Giulia: Grazie per averci indicato la tua ricetta! La prossima volta che faccio questo piatto, lo farò a modo tuo. Mi incuriosisce l'idea di mescolare le erbe e le gocce di limone insieme al sale. Ci da un tocco aromatico, vero?

  4. Mmm! This is a yummy looking dish! I've always wanted to do a salt-crusted fish. Now I know what to do 🙂 I hope you feel better soon! As I write this comment, I'm sniffling up a storm 🙁

  5. Can you do this with large fillets – skin-on? Right now it is very difficult to find whole fish. Welcome to the Midwest. There's one fish place in Mpls and that's about it. This definitely intrigues. Hope you feel better soon.

  6. lovely post indeed, i loved the simplicity of the preparation and the exotic result!. hope you are better now 🙂

  7. Oooh, one of my favorite ways to eat sea bass. I love ordering this out just to watch the whole specatacle of serving it…the crack into the salt and filleting of the fish.

  8. Hi Frank – I hope you're feeling better.
    We are huge fans of branzino – in fact I'm going to write about it later in the week.
    Looking forward to trying your salt crust method.
    LL

  9. I have made a whole roasted branzino, but not salt crusted. That's something I have been wanting to do for sure. Hope you feel better Frank!!

  10. Hope you get better, nothing worst than a nasty cold, wish I could heat you up some of my chicken soup … would clear you right up..

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