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Pesce al Sale (Salt-Crusted Fish)

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My wife and I just returned from a short jaunt through Central America, celebrating 10 years of marriage. We never went on a honeymoon back in 2007, since our wedding was right in the middle of my health issues and I was in no shape to travel at the time. We had a great time visiting Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Costa Rica, our first time visiting the region (I shared some photos on my Instagram page, if you’re interested).

I didn’t get a chance to develop a new recipe for you this week–too much beach time, and maybe too many sips of rum. To compensate, I’m pulling an old favorite from my debut cookbook, The Ancestral Table. To this day, Pesce al Sale is one of my favorite dishes to show people when I’m asked which recipe from the book they should prepare first. From the pages of the book:

This Italian favorite is the perfect date-night dish; in just a few steps you can have a perfectly cooked fish that’s a novelty to reveal to your dinner companion. It remains a common way of cooking fish in Sicily. Be sure to crack the crust and serve the fish directly on the serving table for the most impressive results. Honestly, I think it’s just as fun to put the salt on fish as it is to take it off.

Pesce al Sale – Salt-Crusted Fish (Gluten-free, Perfect Health Diet, Paleo, Primal, Whole30)

  • Servings: 2
  • Time: 30 mins
  • Difficulty: Easy

1 lemon, divided
1-2 lbs whole firm fish (red snapper, trout, rock cod, or sea bass), cleaned and scaled
2 sprigs fresh dill
2-3 lbs coarse sea salt (kosher salt okay)
3 egg whites
olive oil for drizzling

1. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Cut half of the lemon into slices and the other half into wedges for serving. Stuff the fish with the lemon slices and dill. Combine the salt and egg whites in a large mixing bowl.

2. Spread one-third of the salt mixture on a large rimmed baking sheet until it covers an area 1″ wider than the fish. Place the fish on the salt base, then cover the fish evenly with the remaining salt.

3. Bake for 22-25 minutes. You’ll know that the fish is done when the salt has formed a nice brown ring around it and you can insert a paring knife into the center of the crust with little resistance. Let it rest for 5 minutes, then crack open the salt crust with a spoon or wooden mallet. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with lemon wedges.

** One of my favorite places to grab a big quantity of salt is at my local Asian market; they typically sell the coarse sea salt in 10 lb bags for about $10.

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