Salt baked fish is exactly what it sounds like—fish crusted in salt and slid in the oven. The salt crust traps the moisture, ensuring that your fish turns out moist and tender. (It also, thankfully, traps those fishy smells you’d otherwise experience during cooking.)
This salt-baked fish technique consistently results in the moistest, flakiest, most flavorful fish imaginable. And it’s incredibly simple to throw together and virtually impossible to overcook. A whole fish is crusted with a small mountain of salt and slid in the oven to bake for an hour. The salt crust traps the moisture and ensures the fish comes out moist and perfect. As an added bonus, all the fishy odors normally released during cooking are trapped by the salt.–Angie Zoobkoff
WHAT KIND OF FISH CAN I USE IN THIS SALT-BAKED FISH RECIPE?
The simple salt crusted fish technique works with any lean, white, flaky fish, including…
Salt Baked Fish
- About 1 pound, 3 ounces coarse sea salt
- 1 1 to 2 1/2 lbs whole white-fleshed fish gutted but with head, skin, and scales left on
- Olive oil
- 3 sprigs flat leaf parsley leaves chopped
- 1 lemon sliced
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (177°C).
- Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dump half the salt on the parchment. Place the whole fish on the salt and smother it with the remaining salt, packing it all around the fish, making sure that none of the fish is visible. [Editor’s Note: The salt may be sorta crumbly. If you want, dump the salt in a bowl and moisten it with a little water and an egg white to help it stick together a little better.] Cover the baking sheet tightly with a few sheets of aluminum foil and crimp it under the edges of the sheet to seal.]
- Bake the fish until it’s cooked through, about 1 hour. If you’re not sure whether the fish is cooked, prod it here and there with the tip of a skewer. If it’s cooked, the skewer will enter the flesh easily and it will flake readily.
- When the fish is done, remove the foil and break the salt crust open with a knife or fork. Brush all the salt from the surface of the fish. [Editor’s Note: It actually makes quite a terrific presentation to bring the entire salt crusted fish to the table, although then you have to fillet the fish in front of everybody, which can be nerve-wracking for some, although we include instructions in the step that follows. Or you could simply let everyone have at the fish with their forks and not worry about filleting it.]
- To fillet the fish, begin by cutting through the top fillet just below the head with a sharp, thin-bladed knife to separate the fillet from the head. Then turn the blade parallel to the backbone and slide the knife along the backbone from the head towards the tail. Gently lift the top fillet up and away from the backbone It should lift away easily. From the tail end, lift the skeleton of the fish away from the bottom fillet, using the knife if needed to completely remove it. Discard the bones or reserve for making fish stock. Cut each fillet into 2 portions and divide among serving plates. Sprinkle with some olive oil and chopped parsley and garnish with slices of lemon before serving.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
Okay, so YES, this salt baked fish recipe is absolutely delicious. I had seen this technique used on a few TV shows as well as at a few restaurants in various parts of the world. I particularly remember the whole impressive process of filleting the fish tableside, the waiter effortless rolling back the skin of the fish, twirling it around a fork like it was a bit of pasta, then gently gathering up the whole fillet and depositing it on my plate. I confess that I was not nearly as graceful with the final step and yet the fish tasted moist and flavorful. It turned out amazing. I think this is a winning recipe. After visiting a few fishmongers, the largest sea bass I could find was just about a pound. Since the fish was so moist, and it was fully cooked, it was easy to pull the skin back and lift the flesh from the bones, but it was far from whole fillets. Also, it was very hard to remove every last crystal of salt from the fish as it was rather moist. The lemon, parsley, and olive oil to finish were divine—the fish was already moist and tender but this really just set the whole thing off.
This salt baked fish recipe is the simplest method for making perfectly moist and tender fish. I was rewarded for 10 minutes of effort with a wonderfully flavorful fish. Even the hubby, who normally has to drown fish in tartar sauce, didn’t even reach for the bottle. He just gobbled the fish down on its own. Definitely a compliment in my book! I used a whole tilapia (the only whole fish available right now in my area). It weighed in at 1 lb, 7 ounces. The cook time was accurate at 1 hour, and the tip to check using a skewer worked well. It was easy to tell that the fish was ready and you could feel it flake under the tip of the skewer. I was a little nervous about filleting the fish, but need not have been. The skin came away easily and the fillets basically slipped off the bones. This was lovely served simply with the parsley and a squeeze of lemon.
Originally published March 1, 2017