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Salt-crust fish June 24, 2010

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fish.

Nero Wolfe does seem fond of cooking whole fish. It’s easy to fall back on cooking pieces of fish, but Nero Wolfe – many times – has brought out whole fish, cooked to perfection. He cooks whole trout on more than one occasion (“Immune to Murderin the Three for the Chair collection, Death of a Dude) and even bluefish (The Doorbell Rang). However, unlike Nero Wolfe I did not have access to freshly caught trout, or bluefish. I did, however, have a whole snapper to use.

I decided to cook it in a salt crust, which helps in keeping all the juices and flavours sealed in during the cooking process. It also imparts a nice salt flavour to the fish. To start with, as you can see in the photo above, I shook salt over a baking tray and placed the fish on it – the salt was to stop the fish from sticking. I chopped up some garlic, parsley and limes, and stuffed them into the cavity and added salt and pepper. Next, I made the salt crust.

To make the salt crust, I whipped 4 egg whites until they formed soft peaks, then mixed in between 1-2 cups of salt (to be honest I can’t remember how much I ended up using). The aim was to get the egg whites to have the consistency and feeling of wet sand, and I continued to add salt until it reached this consistency. I dumped the mixture on top of the fish, spreading it out and making sure that it reached all the way down to the baking tray.

(The ridges you see in the salt crust was my attempt to make an Iron Chef-esque design on top of the salt crust, but the egg whites were too soft for the design to stay!)

I put the fish in the oven for about 30 minutes on 180°C, then took it out and let it rest for 10 minutes. The crust cracked slightly as I took it out of the oven and as you can see it did widen slightly while it was resting.

After it had rested for around 10 minutes, I carefully pried open the salt crust with tongs. As I pulled the crust away, steam came rushing out – a good sign, as it meant that the salt crust had sealed sufficiently to trap in the juices.

The fish was well and truly cooked, and all that remained was to remove the flesh from the fish. This too was a relatively easy task; the fish was cooked enough for the fins and backbone to just lift away and I was able to lift up pieces of fish from the baking tray. I prepared a simple salad of spinach, parsley and capers with a lemon dressing to accompany the fish.

This is definitely one dish where the photos do not do it justice. I realise that it could be argued that no photography does justice to food (and I would possibly agree with you), but it is safe to say that some food photographs provide a better illustration of the overall impact off the meal than others. This photo does not. The plain white fish you can see in the photo was in fact soft and succulent, flavoured with salt, lime and parsley. It seemed that the overall “fishiness” of the fish had been enhanced, but not in a bad or overwhelming way.

I can definitely see the appeal of cooking whole fish, as Nero Wolfe does. Indeed, Wolfe goes as far as preparing his own versions of old favourites, adding new ingredients and methods to the cooking process. I feel I must experiment with cooking whole fish, and with this salt crust method, and see if I cannot create a new version of this classic.


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