Salt-Baked Wild Salmon with Tomato Aïoli and Potatoes

This is a really good way to cook fish that is to be served whole for a large gathering. The salt coating sets firm, like clay, when it’s mixed with water and exposed to high heat, so the fish steams beautifully inside its protective case. It allows a rich fish to benefit from all the wonderful flavors that come from the bones. Ask your fishmonger to clean the fish but leave the scales on—they will prevent the salt from penetrating the fish as it cooks.–Skye Gyngell

LC Worth One's Salt Note

We rely on this basic salt-baked technique for all types and sizes of fish, whether strapping salmon or delicate flounder. The presentation at the table is worth the small fortune you’ll drop on salt, although if cracking the crust at the table, best warn guests to beware flinging flecks of salt. Use a coarse rock or sea salt but not Maldon, which is a much-prized, much-too-expensive British sea salt. You can buy inexpensive rock salt from fishmongers or supermarkets. Bear in mind, the smaller the fish, the less you’ll spend on salt, although the cooking time will remain about the same.

Salt Baked Wild Salmon Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 40 M
  • 1 H, 30 M
  • Serves 8 to 12

Ingredients

  • For the tomato aioli
  • 3 large organic egg yolks
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 to 8 Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, cooled
  • Scant 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • For the wild salmon
  • 1 wild salmon (about 9 pounds), cleaned but not scaled
  • 2 lemons, thinly sliced
  • 1 branch wild fennel or fronds from 1 fennel bulb
  • 11 pounds coarse rock salt or coarse sea salt (see above Note)
  • For the potatoes
  • 2 1/4 pounds new potatoes, washed
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Handful of purslane or pea shoots (when in season)

Directions

  • Make the aioli
  • 1. Place the egg yolks in a blender or food processor, add the garlic, lemon juice, a little salt and pepper, and the tomatoes, then whiz briefly to combine. With the motor running, pour in the olive oil through the feeder tube in a very slow, steady stream. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. (This can be made up to a day in advance.)
  • Prepare the wild salmon
  • 2. Preheat the oven to its highest setting, at least 500°F (260°C or convection oven to 475°F). Rinse the fish inside and out under cold running water, then pat it dry. Place the lemon slices and fennel inside the cavity. Don’t bother to season the fish.
  • 3. Place the rock salt in a large bowl and add enough cold water to yield the consistency of wet sand. (This can take as much as 4 cups, depending on the type of salt, but start with just 1 cup of water.) Mix with your hands.
  • 4. Spread half of the salt mixture on a large baking sheet or in a shallow roasting pan to create a flat, even surface. Lay the fish on top and cover with the rest of the salt, packing it firmly around the fish, as if you were burying someone at the beach.
  • 5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the fish is barely cooked. To test, pierce the thickest part of the fish through to the bone with a sharp knife. If the knife tip feels warm to the touch when you withdraw it, the fish is ready. If not, cook it for a little longer. Set the pan aside to rest and cool to room temperature. The fish will continue to cook in the residual heat as it cools within its salt crust.
  • Make the potatoes
  • 6. Cook the potatoes in well-salted boiling water until very tender and almost falling apart, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain the potatoes and, while still warm, sprinkle them with the lemon juice, season with lots of pepper, and a little more salt if necessary. Add the olive oil and toss well to combine. Then add the purslane and toss again.
  • Serve the fish
  • 7. Crack the salt crust open with the handle of a knife or a rolling pin. Carefully remove the salt and peel off the skin from the fish. Serve the beautiful, succulent salmon warm or at room temperature with the warm potatoes and tomato aïoli.
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Comments
Comments
  1. Testers Choice says:

    [Sandy Hill] The “beautiful and succulent salmon” context is an awesome description. The salmon was a flavor and texture we’d never experienced before, and the tomato aioli and potatoes finished the dish perfectly. We paired it with La Crema 2007 Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, and it was the perfect meal for entertaining. However, I do suggest cracking the salt crust in the kitchen the first few times. I could only find a 3-pound whole wild salmon, so I used 4 pounds of coarse rock salt and baked it for about 20 to 23 minutes. It served four nicely, with a few delicious leftovers the next day. Piercing the thickest part of the fish and feeling the knife tip was the perfect test for doneness.

  2. Testers Choice says:

    [Brenda Carleton] This salmon recipe is a showstopper. It looks beautiful on the table, and is succulent, rich, and buttery in taste. The aioli is subtle and a great pairing for the fish. I used a convection oven at 475°F, and a 7-pound fish instead of 9 pounds the recipe called for. Placing lemons and fennel into fish cavities is nothing new, but oh, what flavour! I unfortunately couldn’t find new potatoes, so I used baby potatoes instead. The potatoes were good, nothing spectacular, but they were nice with this particular dish, as clean flavours are desirable with salmon. The salt crust is a fun and tasty experiment. It imparts a well-seasoned flavour to the fish without it ending up salty at all. I used about three cups of water to nine cups of rock salt. It baked for 15 minutes, which was just perfect—barely done. Cracking the crust when the fish was done was lots of fun, especially for our guests who had never done it before. The salmon was flaky and oozing with tenderness. This recipe varies little from others I’ve seen or tried. However, it’s still a reliable recipe using a lesser-known technique to impress both eyes and palate.

  3. I love salt crust baked fish. Your 9 pounds wild salmon is awesome! Never heard of tomato aloli, gotta try next time.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      In addition to tasting phenomenal, that aioli turns a lovely salmon color, Janet. Let us know how you like it!

  4. What a magnificent recipe!
    Roxanne Sukol MD

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Thanks! You can try that technique on other types of fish—I’m partial to flounder—and let us know!

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