Salt-Baked Red Snapper | Lubina a la Sel

Called lubina a la sal, or salt-baked red snapper, there’s no better or simpler technique for cooking fish than this. The snapper baked inside the salt shell is soft and moist, with no hint of saltiness, in spite of what you might expect. You normally see this dish in restaurants, but it’s easy to replicate at home. After you make this dish a few times, you’ll discover the right combination of temperature, cooking time, and the weight of the fish to give you a perfectly cooked fish.–José Andres

Salt-Baked Red Snapper Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 1 H
  • Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds coarse sea salt, plus more for serving
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 6 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 10 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1 whole (approximately 2 1/2 pounds) red snapper, gutted but not scaled
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish, if desired

Directions

  • 1. To make the salt-baked red snapper, preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C) . Adjust the oven rack to the middle position.
  • 2. In a large bowl, toss the salt with the water, stirring until the salt is slightly damp. Coarsely chop 2 bay leaves, 3 rosemary sprigs, and 5 thyme sprigs. Add the aromatics to the salt and mix well.
  • 3. Spread half of the mixture on a rimmed baking sheet. Place the snapper on the salt. Tuck the remaining herbs in the cavity of the fish and then cover the fish completely with the remaining salt mixture, packing it firmly around the fish.
  • 4. Bake the snapper for 30 minutes. (If your fish is larger than 2 1/2 pounds, increase the oven time approximately 5 minutes or so per each extra pound.) Let the snapper rest for 5 minutes.
  • 5. To fillet the fish, using a fork and spoon, crack open the salt crust along the side. The upper half of the salt, now a hard shell, should lift off easily. (Although truth be told, it may crumble into pieces.) With the help of a fork, gently peel away the snapper’s skin and discard. Using a knife, cut just below the head of the snapper through to the bone. Then turn the knife at an angle and slice lengthwise along the spine. Carefully lift the fish fillet off the bone in a single piece, if you can, and transfer it to a platter. Turn the fish over and repeat on the other side. Or you could instead simply transfer the entire baking sheet to the table and allow everyone to have at the fish with their forks.
  • 6. Take a nibble of the snapper and, if you’re so inclined, season it with salt and olive oil prior to serving.
Hungry for more? Chow down on these:

Comments
Comments
  1. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Sarina M.] In a word: divine. Flaky and herb-infused, you barely need the salt and olive oil to finish this dish. Salt-baked fish is always impressive, and this particular rendition is no exception. If your oven runs cool or you have a fish larger than the suggested 2 1/2 pounds, compensate accordingly by cooking an extra 3 to 5 minutes to be on the safe side (if it’s closer to 3 pounds, make it an extra 8 minutes or so). The fish is easy to present, but be careful when removing the top crust—if you didn’t make it thick enough, it may shatter. So practice—you’ll have many opportunities, since you’ll be making this dish again. And again.

  2. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Jenna Helwig] Because this recipe calls for a whole fish and 3 pounds of salt, I can see how it would be intimidating. But it’s extremely easy and, quite possibly, foolproof. Once the fish is cooked, the salt lifts off fairly easily. And the fish tasted sweet and moist—succulent, I dare say. Two caveats: the recipe says to season the fish with salt after it’s filleted. Mine didn’t need additional salt. Secondly, my fish was just under 2 1/2 pounds, but there’s no way it would have served four people. In our case, it served two adults and one child perfectly.

  3. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Chiyo Ueyama] Contrary to what one may think, the salt crust doesn’t season the fish. But it does provide two big favors: it makes for a great presentation, and it keeps the fish super-moist. My snapper was just under 2 1/2 pounds after gutting, and the amount of salt and the baking time were perfect for it. I allowed myself a little wiggle room in terms of where to put the herbs: half of the aromatics in the cavity of the fish, and the rest between the fish and the top half of the salt crust. The flavors of the fish and the herbs were equally delicate and enjoyable.

  4. Testers Choice Testers Choice says:

    [Linda Pacchiano] This is a quick and easy recipe, and the results are outstanding. It’s moist and wonderfully flavorful, and I can see using this method with a number of other whole fishes such as branzino, orata, or bass. The recipe calls for sprigs of rosemary and thyme, which were difficult to incorporate into the salt—not to mention make it more likely that the crust will crack—so I chopped the herbs and blended them with the salt. I also placed lemon slices and herb sprigs inside the cavity of the fish, which imparts additional flavor throughout. I’ve made this recipe with and without the scales on the fish, and the scales definitely protect the fish from absorbing too much of the salt. I didn’t season the snapper with salt because it had just the right amount of saltiness, but I did drizzle over a bit of Spanish olive oil, and it was just the right touch. TIP: Instead of trying to balance temperature, time and weight to figure out the right combination for cooking, simply use an instant thermometer inserted through the crust into the center of the fish. At a temperature of 140 degrees, the fish will be perfectly done.

  5. Janet Mendel says:

    Wonderful recipe from José Andrés. Lamentably, in Spanish waters we don’t have red snapper, so here it’s usually made with lubina, sea bass, or dorada, gilthead bream. A sauce, such as aliño (extra virgin olive oil, chopped garlic, chopped parsley, lemon juice), is usually served on the side.

    • David Leite says:

      That sounds wonderful. It’s similar to a molho de pitau in Portugal. I’m hungry for fish and it’s only 10:51 a.m.!

  6. Cheryl Spiegel says:

    NOT SCALED????? I really enjoy eating whole fish, including the skin, but it absolutely needs to scaled. What would the reasoning behind not being scaled? Does the skin become saturated with salt while baking?

    • David Leite says:

      Hi, Cheryl. Salt-baked fish is never scaled. The scales create an effective barrier against all that salt, otherwise the fish would be inedible.

  7. Marilyn Hentz says:

    Hi David – this sounds wonderful – can I use kosher salt instead of sea salt?

Have something to say?

Then tell us. Have a picture you'd like to add to your comment? Send it along. Covet one of those spiffy pictures of yourself to go along with your comment? Get a free Gravatar. And as always, please take a gander at our comment policy before posting.

*

Daily Subscription

Enter your email address and get all of our updates sent to your inbox the moment they're posted. Be the first on your block to be in the know.

Preview daily e-mail

Weekly Subscription

Hate tons of emails? Do you prefer info delivered in a neat, easy-to-digest (pun intended) form? Then enter your email address for our weekly newsletter.

Preview weekly e-mail