In Portugal, particularly in regions near the coastline like Lisbon, whole fish baked in salt is a traditional dish found in restaurants to highlight its taste and freshness. It is a must for me whenever I visit my country. I usually go to Guincho situated in the atlantic coast near Cascais. Guincho has a very famous beach well known internationally for its favoured surfing conditions and nearby there are many fish restaurants. You can sit looking at the dramatic scenery, the sea, its big waves and enjoy great fish and seafood.
For those of you who never heard of this method, let me reassure you that after baking, the fish is never too salty. That is why you always use whole fish without any cuts so that the salt does not absorb any liquid from the fish. The salt is used as a hard crust that keeps the moistness of the fish intact while it cooks. After you brake the crust, the fish should be moist, seasoned perfectly and with a nice herb aroma. Don’t be afraid to make it, it is really not difficult at all and it’s a great dish when you have guests. It is a very healthy recipe as well.
Having always cooked the fish baked in salt with Portuguese recipes, I decided to try a Mexican recipe this time. It is an adaptation of a recipe by Chef Oropeza and the method and techniques are very similar to the recipes I used before. The fish was just perfect, flaky, tasty and aromatic.
Red Snapper Baked in Salt
- 2 kg coarse salt
- 2 egg whites
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 small red snappers, whole and cleaned
- 1/2 cup basil leaves, washed
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, washed
- 1 lemon, cut in slices
- 1 seedless lemon, cut in slices
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- a pinch of pepper
- In a bowl mix the salt with the egg whites and the water to moisten it. Divide in half and use half as the base in a baking pan. Reserve the other half.
- Preheat the oven to 200ºC/400ºF. Fill the insides of the Red Snappers with the basil leaves, cilantro leaves and the slices of both lemons. Increase the flavour by adding a bit of olive oil and pepper. Place the red snappers on top of the salt base in the baking pan. Spread the remaining half of the salt over the red snappers making sure you cover every inch but be careful not to get any salt inside the fish. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and let it rest for 2 minutes.
- Remove the crust with the help of a spoon and serve the red snappers in fillets accompanied by a salad or like I also do with rosemary small roasted potatoes and broccoli. As a final touch, I always put a jug with good quality extra virgin olive oil (preferably Portuguese of course!) on the table, it goes perfectly with the fish and each person should be able to pour it to taste. The more fruity, soft and aromatic the extra virgin olive oil, the better. Enjoy!