Salt Baked Fish is the perfect method for when you find yourself wondering how to cook a whole fish. Because when you make baked fish in salt you honor the whole fish with an equally stunning, but actually very easy preparation.
An easy and versatile baked fish recipe to perfectly steam and infuse whole fish or fish fillets with fresh herbs and lemon in a Morton Coarse Kosher Salt crust.
This post has been sponsored by Morton Salt, Inc. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
What is salt baked fish?
Baked fish in a salt crust is a fabulous method for cooking whole fish!
To make fish baked in salt you simply cover whole fish with a mixture of salt and seasonings then bake until perfectly steamed.
The reason why you would make salt baked fish is because the salt crust creates an airtight seal and acts as insulation protecting the tender fish inside. And essentially creating an oven inside an oven and locking in flavor for the most amazing, tender, and flaky fish.
Salt Baked Fish is not salty at all. Instead salt baked in fish tastes like whatever seasonings you put inside.
Baking fish in salt is an ancient method for cooking fish that originated in Italy where freshly harvested, still moist sea salt was used to enclose fish before cooking. The traditional italian baked fish recipe only calls for salt and fish to make fish baked in salt. But this recipe has so much opportunity for customization! Much like when cooking in parchment “papilotte” or foil, whatever citrus, herbs, and spices are placed inside will be lightly infused into the fish.
Usually served at big family dinners there’s actually really no reason to wait for a special occasion. Because even though it looks crazy-impressive it’s super easy to make from common pantry ingredients – herbs, spices and Morton Kosher Salt.
- Fish – white fish like halibut, cod, snapper, branzino, and sea bass are great for making salt crusted fish! The mild flavor of saltwater white fish is really highlighted when baked in a salt crust. You can also substitute smaller fish fillets, but you should only use fish with the skin and scales on otherwise the salt crust will penetrate the fish and make it too salty.
You may also use this to cook fresh water fish like rainbow trout but know that the salt crust locks in all flavor and may increase the ‘muddy’ taste of freshwater fish.
- Coarse kosher salt – The light, not overpowering, flavor and coarse, opaque white flakes. Salt Baked Fish that calls for a whopping 4.5 cups of Morton Kosher Salt.
- Egg whites – mixing egg whites into the crust for salt baked fish is the easiest way to ensure perfect results every time! But if you’d rather not mess with whipped egg whites you can substitute plain cool water with similar results. The plain water version will also be bright white while the egg white salt crust will be nicely browned. You can also use any other liquid – even wine or beer!
- Lemon and herbs. Use lemon and parsley for an italian baked fish. Or substitute kefir lime leaves, thai basil and lime for a thai baked fish. You can even try lemongrass, garlic and ginger for a chinese salt baked fish.
Does salt baked fish taste salty?
Although it may sound like a lot of salt, it’s not too salty at all! I promise! A lot of people who are wondering what salt baked fish tastes like are afraid of the saltiness. But the salt crust does not impart any flavor in the fillet of salt crusted fish The salt crust simply creates an airtight seal, locking in flavor for the most amazing, tender, and flaky fish.
Step by step instructions
- Choose a baking dish large enough to fit your fish while allowing for plenty of space around it for the salt crust. A baking sheet, pizza pan or large casserole would all work.
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. And prepare ingredients by cleaning fish, zesting lemons and slicing them into rounds for baking and in wedges for serving with the salt baked fish. Stuff fish with sliced lemons and some herbs.
- Make the crust mixture. Whip egg white until frothy, either with a mixer or by hand with a whisk. Place Morton Kosher Salt, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley in a large bowl and stir in the whipped egg whites.
- Now, unleash your inner child and get your hands in the sand-like salt mixture. Mound some up under and around the fish gently patting to form a smooth, sealed mound either leaving the fish head and tail exposed or covering the entire fish with salt.
- Using a spoon to create a few rows of “scales’ on the fish body if you’d like to create a design. Otherwise, leave smooth.
The crust will harden up and retain the shape after baking.
- Bake in preheated oven then remove and let rest 5 minutes before serving.
- Either crack and remove crust at the table or serve each fish individually and allow guests to crack with their own mallets. Once top layer of salt is removed, peel away skin, remove bones and serve.
How do you know when baked fish is done?
The salt crust makes it difficult to determine when the fish is fully cooked. Making it hard to know how long to bake fish in salt. But there are several methods to know when salt baked fish is done:
- Stick the tip of a knife or a metal skewer through the salt and into the thickest part of the fish. Then, remove and place on chin. If it’s too hot to hold for 15 seconds, it’s done.
- Or, use an instant read thermometer and remove when the internal temperature reaches 140 F.
- Or skip both the knife and the thermometer and prevent puncturing the crust with the eye method. A benefit of leaving the fish whole is that you can tell when a fish is over, under or perfectly cooked by looking at its eye. If the eye is still translucent, then it needs more time. Opaque white means it’s done. Nearly invisible and sunken? Sorry friend, it’s overcooked.
What to serve with
Serve Salt Baked Fish as you would any other baked fish recipe.
- Serve baked fish with lemon wedges, steamed veggies and rice pilaf or quinoa.
- Tuck the flaky fish into a charred corn tortilla and top with Chimichurri Verde made with parsley, lemon and dill.
- Serve with a side of Creamy Lemon Dressing and a green salad.
- Try salt crusted fish served with cold salads like Creamy Dill Potato Salad.
- Or top with a simple garnish like pico de gallo, fruity Strawberry Salsa , Pickled Red Onions, or Marinated Onions.
- Serve as a part of a fancy seafood dinner with oysters, crab cakes or salmon cakes, shrimp tempura, steamed clams and maybe even a champagne cocktail.
- 4.5 cups coarse kosher salt roughly three pounds
- 4 large egg whites
- 3 pound fish or 3-4 smaller fish, cleaned
- 4 small lemons
- 2 sprigs dill fresh
- 2 sprigs parsley fresh
- Heat oven to 450 degrees fahrenheit. Rinse fish thoroughly with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Zest and slice 2 of the lemons into rounds, and cut the other 2 into wedges for serving.
- Whip egg white until frothy, either with a mixer or by hand with a whisk. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in kosher salt, lemon zest and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley.
- Choose a large rimmed baking sheet, roasting pan or casserole dish large enough to fit your fish with plenty of space. Place enough salt mixture on the bottom of the baking sheet to cover a space roughly the size and shape of the fish with about 1” of space around it and ½” deep. Place a few lemon slices and a sprinkle of fresh herbs on the salt, then top with the fish. Tuck remaining lemon slices and fresh herbs inside the cavity of the fish. Top fish with remaining salt mixture.
- Pat with your hands to form a smooth, sealed mound, keeping fish and tail exposed or covering completely with salt.
- Using a spoon, create a few rows of “scales” on the fish body. If head and tail are covered, create tail lines with the handle of the spoon and use your finger to make an indent for the eyeball (optional).
- Place in oven and roast for 15 minutes or until it reaches 140 degrees. Remove and let rest 5 minutes.
- Crack and remove crust at the table or serve each fish individually and allow guests to crack with their own mallets. Once top layer of salt is removed, peel away skin, remove bones and serve.