Of all the things I cook, fish is not my strongest dish I’ve made halibut and salmon, but I’ve never attempted a fish like sea bass. So I was so excited when my friend Juliette agreed to give me a lesson in ‘how to cook sea bass’ properly. This is a wonderful recipe she picked up traveling through Spain. A whole sea bass baked in salt is a pretty traditional way to cook fish on the Mediterranean coast from Spain to Sicily and Greece. This recipe is Spanish. Snapper is sometimes prepared this way too.
The first thing she did was go to the local market and buy whole fresh sea bass. There, they cleaned and gutted them for her so it was all ready to go when we started. The only thing she had to do (and we show you in the video below) is snip off the fins and the tail. That’s it – that’s the only fish prep work needed. What amazed me the most is how simple making this sea bass recipe is. I always think fish and panic. It is out of my comfort zone. You don’t want to undercook it and inadvertently wind up with sushi and if it is overcooked it is dry. And fish needs to be seasoned properly so it doesn’t taste too fishy. There are so many factors that can go wrong I usually just avoid it all together. But not anymore.
What intrigued me most about this recipe is how she cooked the fish or more specifically, in what. The sea bass is completely covered on all sides in good, Mediterranean sea salt. Juliette told me about this for weeks and I questioned her every time. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around using all this salt, that is, until I watched what she did. By completely covering the sea bass in sea salt, the salt crystallizes around the fish. Basically, the salt creates an oven around the fish. By doing this, the fish locks in all the flavors of the items it’s stuffed with, but not absorbing any of the salt. The result is a perfectly seasoned, light and tender fish unlike any other I’ve ever tasted. It is so delicious, my non-fish eating husband turned to me and said, “Ok Gina, you can make THIS fish anytime!” Thank you Juliette!
We talked about making this video for weeks and I can’t thank her enough for opening her home and specifically her kitchen up to me and my family. To say the least, we had a great time, perhaps too great of a time (Bloody Marys help) and I plan on talking her into another video soon.
I think you should follow suit by inviting friends over, making this sea bass recipe (Bloody Marys included). It’s probably the easiest fish recipe I know and with the best result. And if you have guests the sight of the whole fish being taken out of it’s the sea salt “oven” makes for a fun and dramatic presentation.
Sea Bass Baked In Salt Recipe
1 whole sea bass, cleaned and gutted
½ orange, sliced
½ lemon, sliced,
1 fennel, sliced
½ onion, sliced
1/2 leek, sliced
1 fresh thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 lbs sea salt
Place fish on its side on a cutting board. Using a pair of kitchen utility scissors, snip off all of the fishes fins and tail. Make sure the side of the fish that is facing up is the side with the longer flap by its belly. Open the fish and start layering all ingredients. Tuck flap over the ingredients to secure (if not all flaps are long enough to tuck, it’s ok). Pour ¼ of the sea salt in a baking dish or aluminum pan. Make sure it is big enough for the fish to fit comfortably. The fish shouldn’t be cramped up against the sides of the dish. Pour the rest of the sea salt over the fish, completely covering it. It is very important that the entire fish is enveloped in the sea salt. If any part is not submerged in salt, add more. The salt crystallizes around the fish, creating a hard shell that won’t be consumed but is critical for cooking the fish properly. Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for 1 hour.
The spine of the fish should come out easily and in 1 piece.
After an hour, remove the fish from the oven. You must work quickly to remove the fish from it’s sea salt shell otherwise it will keep cooking. First, pour out the excess salt that didn’t crystallize. Using a cake or pie server, crack the sea salt shell and carefully remove the salt. Continue to do so, until the fish’s skin is exposed, pouring off the excess salt as you go. Be careful not to get the salt into the body of the fish. Remove the orange, lemon, fennel, onion, bay leaf and thyme and discard. Once the skin of the sea bass is exposed, carefully peel it back. The bones should come with it. Using the cake server again, remove the filet meat from the fish. Continue doing this until the spine is showing. Grab the spine at one end and remove it from the fish. It should come out in one piece. Discard. Remove the filet meat from the bottom of the fish. Discard the fish carcass. Plate the fish fillet and serve.