Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fish dish, part 2: Salt-crusted trout

OK, making a salt crust for a whole fish really IS simple. Fun, too.

It's the rest of the mess that's tricky!

First, I must say that the salt crust really created fish that was super flavorful; I stuffed one with fresh dill and two others with a combination of fresh sage, tarragon and parsley. They were delicious. They also cooked relatively quickly -- 35 minutes at 400 degrees. (That's always a plus for people who like the idea of slow food and cooking something all afternoon but know the reality of it doesn't fit into their lives.) The whole process, from the time I unwrapped the fish to the time I had them on a platter, took less than an hour.

But... I didn't realize how tough it was to cut away gills and fins. Literally tough, yes, but I also got pretty squeamish. These things have heads with faces! Yikes. Plus, it was all a bit slimy.

Another difficult aspect was getting the fillets off the bones. Can one ever really get rid of all the bones before serving such fish? I don't know. I do know that the surprise of finding little bones in my mouth has always been an unwelcome one, and it's a reason I've stayed away from whole fish all these years.

All in all, I'm not sure I will repeat this dish. It's just so much easier to get fillets at the store, totally boneless and ready for the oven, the grill, or a marinade.
If you're up for trying a whole fish roasted in salt, have a go at it. I would request a fish that already has its gills and fins removed. Any small, whole fish will do. Here's how I made mine. It's adapted from "Fish: Without a Doubt," by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore.

Salt-crusted trout (serves 4)

3 whole trout, about 2 pounds in all, gutted and scaled, with gills and fins removed

5 egg whites

3/4 cup water

5 cups of sea salt

fresh herbs

1.) Whisk together the egg whites and water until they are very frothy. I whisked by hand for a few minutes.

2.) Add the sea salt into the mixture; it should feel like coarse, wet sand.

3.) Stuff the fish with the fresh herbs.

4.) Scoop about 1-1/2 to 2 cups of the mixture onto a baking sheet that's covered in foil. Lay the fish on top. 5.) Cover them completely with the rest of the salt mixture, and roast at 400 degrees for 35 minutes. When you remove it from the oven, it will look something like this:

6.) Crack the salt crust off, and let the fish cool for about 4 minutes. (My crust cracked off nicely in some spots, but crumbled in others. Not sure why.) Peel off the skin, and lift the top fillets off the bones.

7.) Pick up the bottom halves and do the same on a different surface. (This part is tricky; turn the bottom halves around, so the skin is on top again.)

Serve with lemon slices.
The question of the day: What's your favorite dish to make for a party?

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