Salt baking is a technique where salt is bound with a little egg and used to encase a food. The encased food is then baked until cooked. The wonderful thing about salt baked foods, aside from the amazing taste and perfection in how the food turns out, is the presentation. You bring out what your diners see as a hunk of salt to the table and set it before them. You then proceed to, dramatically, break apart the salt crust releasing a delicious and mysterious cloud of steam that clears to reveal perfectly cooked food! Try this recipe for salt crusted fish. It’s low maintenance and will become your go to weeknight meal.
- 1 1-2# fish, gutted but with the skin and scales left on
- 3# kosher salt
- 3 eggs
- 3 lemon slices
- 1 sprig each of rosemary and thyme
Preheat your oven to 400*F. Combine the salt and eggs and mix until it has a texture like damp sand. If the salt is too dry to clump together when you squeeze a handful of it then add water, a tablespoon at a time until it comes together. Place a thin layer of the salt in a baking dish the size of your fish. Stuff the fish with the lemon and herbs and place it on the salt. Fully and tightly cover the fish with the remaining salt. Bake for roughly 35 minutes for a 1 pound fish and 45 for a two pounder. If you have excess salt then use the same technique on a mixture of whole unpeeled carrots, potatoes, and beets. They’ll be ready after about 45 minutes. You can even bake all this together in the same dish if you choose.
Bottarga is an ingredient that is sadly missing from many of our kitchens. It is the salted and pressed eggs of tuna or red mullet. Bottarga was developed on the Italian island of Sardinia. It is used much in the way that anchovies are, as an underlying enforcing ingredient. Making bottarga at home is a simple as burying fish eggs in salt and then letting them dry out. In this version I use lobster eggs. Obtaining lobster eggs is fairly straightforward, purchase a live female lobster and remove the egg sacks. You can source lobster eggs by themselves but most of the time there’s a 1# minimum. Try grating them over scrambled eggs or pasta. You’ll wonder where bottarga has been your whole life.
- Lobster eggs (If you cannot source lobster eggs then talk to your fishmonger about other options. Fluke, mullet, and shad roe sacks work great.)
Spread a layer of salt on the bottom of a non-reactive dish. Lay the lobster eggs on the salt and completely cover them with more salt. Leave them out at room temperature for 24-36 hours. After the 24-36 hours remove the eggs from the salt and briefly rinse them under cold water to wash the salt off. Set the eggs on a drying rack in your fridge and let them dry out until they’re hard. Once dry the eggs are shelf stable and can be stored in a mason jar in your pantry.
Growing Artisan Salt
I developed a technique for recycling the salt used during the curing of meat by recrystallizing it in flavored brine. This technique can be implemented with fresh salt and will yield awesome results. The recipe below uses lemon as the flavoring agent but you can use anything from ashes to beef jerky to strawberries.
- 2 Tablespoons lemon zest
- 250mL lemon juice
- 750mL hot water
- 265g kosher salt
- 1 bamboo skewer
- Butchers twine
- 1 1-quart mason jar
Combine the zest, water, lemon juice, and salt to make the brine. Stir until the salt completely dissolves. Tie the skewer to the twine and then suspend it vertically in the jar ensuring that the skewer hovers 1” above the bottom of the jar. Pour the brine into the jar and let it sit until you see crystals start to grow on the skewer. This could take weeks to over a month. Once crystals start to form take the skewer out and spray them with the brine. Allow the brine to dry on the crystals then submerge them back in the brine. Do this every week until all the brine has evaporated. Once the crystals have fully formed break them off the skewer and enjoy!