By Ippolita Douglas Scotti:
This ancient way of cooking fish is common in southern Italy, especially in Sicily, where there are salt lagoons and fresh fish. The Roman cook Apicio, who lived between the 1st and 2nd century B.C., describes this recipe in his cookbook De re Coquinaria, but this technique was used before the Romans.
Baking fish in a salt crust forms a seal so that it comes out moist and flavorful but not too salty, because the skin forms a layer between the flesh and the salt. Encased in this salt crust, the fish remains very tender and juicy.
For the salt, you’ll need about twice the weight of the fish to cover it almost an inch thick all around. Use a whole white fish such as sea bass, bream, snapper, or even trout.
Thoroughly clean the fish and fill it with herbs and lemon.
This recipe is very easy, and you can serve it simply with a drizzle of really good extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice. The presentation will surprise your dinner companions, and this easy recipe is striking, healthy, and very simple. Serve with sautéed vegetables like bell peppers with eggplants and potatoes or with a nice fresh salad.
Pesce in Crosta di Sale
(Fish Baked in a Salt Crust)
Whole white fish (cleaned and gutted) 1 lemon, thinly sliced Sprigs of fresh thyme, rosemary, sage 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced Extra virgin olive oil Coarse salt Fine salt
Preheat oven to 400°F ( 200°C).
Wash and pat dry the fish. In the cavity, place a few lemon slices and the herbs with a few slices of garlic. Rub the skin with a little bit of olive oil, just to moisten.
Use a baking pan large enough to hold the fish. Cover the bottom with coarse salt. Place the whole stuffed fish on top. Cover the fish completely with fine salt (apprx. 1" thick). Use a spray bottle and bottled water to spray the salt (not too much!) to moisten the top and help seal the salt.
Place the pan in the oven. Lower the temperature to 375°F (190° C).
Bake for 30 minutes.
The salt crust should have a golden color to it and be hard to the touch.
Take it out of the oven and let it rest 5 minutes.
At your serving table, crack open the crust with a knife. Break off the salt crust and serve.
Drizzle with oil and lemon juice.
Contessa Ippolita Douglas Scotti di Vigileno is a true Italian—born in Florence, Italy, from a long line of eccentric Italian aristocrats, she has traveled the world in search of adventure, romance, and magical, mouth-watering recipes. "Ippo" loves Italian history, especially as it relates to food. Author of There's a Beatle in My Soup, Curcuma e Zenzero (Ginger & Tumeric), 101 Perche Sulla Storia di Firenze (101 questions on Florence History), The Grimore, The Magic of the Moon, and Magic Herbs (all published by Newton Compton Publishers).