It's Baking Month: Switch your oven on and get warm, cozy and festive with us this December.
The dramatic presentation of a salt-crusted whole baked fish is enough of a reason to fix this for dinner, so why not make a meal of it? Season the salt with fennel scraps and lemon peels, which not only minimizes waste but also lends subtle citrus and anise flavors to the fish and potatoes. Round it out with a simple salad, and you have yourself a balanced and beautifully seasoned dinner.
Salt Baked Fish with Fingerlings and Fennel
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 2 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
1 pound baby fingerling potatoes
1 medium fennel, stalks and fronds attached
4 large egg whites
¼ cup cold water, plus more if needed
1 lemon, zest removed with a vegetable peeler and flesh juiced
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns, plus more to taste
4½ cups kosher salt, plus more if needed
One 2-to-2½-pound white-fleshed fish (such as wild red snapper)—scaled, gutted and gills removed
2 lemons, 1 thinly sliced and 1 cut into wedges
Olive oil, to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
2. In a medium saucepan, add the potatoes and cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook until barely fork tender and parboiled, 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, drain and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, cut the fennel stalks from the bulb and set aside. Pick the fronds and transfer them to a medium bowl. Peel the outer skin from the fennel bulb, finely chop and set aside. Halve the bulb lengthwise, thinly slice and add to the bowl of fronds; cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
4. In a large bowl, combine the chopped fennel scraps, egg whites, water, lemon zest strips, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and the pepper. Add the salt and mix with a rubber spatula until a small ball can be molded in the palm of your hand. If the mix is too dry, add more water; if it's too wet, add more salt. Makes about 5½ cups of salt mixture.
5. Line the fennel stalks in a single layer into the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold the fish (it's OK if the fish's tail doesn't quite fit). Evenly distribute 2 cups of the salt mixture around the stalks, covering the bottom of the dish. Place the fish on top, stuff the belly with the lemon slices and cover completely with the remaining salt mixture, smoothing with a spatula. Surround the fish with the parboiled potatoes and bake in the preheated oven until a heatproof thermometer reads 135° when inserted into the thickest part of the fish, behind the head, about 30 minutes.
6. Just before the fish is almost done, toss the thinly sliced fennel and fronds with a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice, and season to taste with black pepper.
7. When the fish is done, crack the salt crust with the back of a large knife and peel it off of the skin. Using a fork, gently peel away the skin from the fish and flake away the meat from the bone. Turn the fish over and repeat. Place the meat on large serving platter, along with the potatoes, fennel salad and lemon wedges, and serve.