Salt. Does this word get your stomach growling? Get your mouth salivating? Lips smacking? Make you want to just ‘dig in’? Probably not. But could we live without it? Most definitely not. Doing some brief research on this dietary mineral not only “schooled” me on its lengthy history, but it also made me majorly appreciate it in a way I never did before. Who knew how really awesome and important salt was? Ok, maybe you did, but it’s been years since I’ve been in high school. Basically, salt is essential to all life – our body needs it to function properly. And, best of all, it’s one of the most simple and basic molecules on earth. Luckily we’ve got a sh!tload of it available on this earth. Hopefully global warming won’t f&ck that up too! Maybe that is the reason why a 3-pound box of kosher salt at the store costs only $2.75?
Just to get your excitement level up even more about salt (if you aren’t already on the edge of your seat panting), I’ll continue with my brief history lesson. We kind of take salt for granted. Unless it’s fancy like that fleur de sel or that Hawaian lava salt stuff, people kind of think, “Whateva… It’s just salt” and then throw it over their left shoulder as if it were nothing or get a giggle out of loosening the lid on a shaker at a diner and watch someone use it (heee heee, teee heeee heeee!) only to waste it as it falls all over the table and floor. But salt IS something. God damn it! If salt was a person, she’d be older than God (salt’s the oldest known food additive), or at least Jesus. Hell, she IS God (can you imagine cooking without it?). Did you know that at certain points in time and in certain places, salt was used as currency? Wars were supposedly waged in the name of salt. Hell, Northwich, Cheshire (United Kingdom) wouldn’t be the awesome, contemporary and trendy metropolis it is today if it weren’t for their salt mines – they even have a museum dedicated to it! ***Note: My husband wanted to let you all know that the Salt Museum was so stimulating to him that on a fun, weekend trip at age seven, he fell fast asleep on a pile of salt – ok, it was a bench, but whatever.****
One of salt’s main use back in the day was in preserving fish (remember, besides salt, you also seem to take ice and refrigeration for granted – are you feeling like shit yet?) and other foods. Ever eat bacalao/bacala? Yes, thanks to the days before fridges and freezers, the Portuguese and Spanish used a “wet” method to salt-preserve their fish on-board their boats while the French and English used the ‘dry’ method by drying their fish on racks onshore (www.saltinstitute.org). Maybe this is also why salt is mentioned in the Bible 30 times?
Which leads me to the point – baking a whole fish in salt seems natural to me now. When I decided to cook this after seeing Jose Andres do it recently, I couldn’t believe how delicious this cheap, easy and simple way of cooking a fish could be. Please, I beg you to give this a shot. I’ve read that you can cook chicken and squid as well as many other things in a salt crust. I recommend a whole fish mainly because you can fillet it and remove or not eat the skin. Yes, you remove most of the salt from the fish after it has been cooked, but there is still a very, very salty residue on the skin. Just eat the moist meat under the salty skin with just a squeeze of fresh lemon and a drizzle of really good olive oil. So rustic (see picture – I couldn’t really plate this in a pretty way), so “salt-of-the-earth” kind of a meal (pun kind of intended) and so freaking easy. Paired with some crunchy, spicy okra fritters and you’ve got a great and pretty healthy meal. This is also a great meal to have around Lent or Easter (meat free) – kind of seems a bit Biblical to me.
SALT CRUSTED WHOLE SNAPPER WITH OKRA FRITTERS AND LOUISIANA REMOULADE – Serves 2
For the Fish:
- 1 2-lb whole fish (we used snapper)
- 1/2 lemon sliced up
- 2 crushed garlic cloves
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 bay leaves (optional)
- 1 big box of kosher salt
For the okra fritters:
- 2 cups sliced okra (thinly sliced)
- 1 cup chopped onions
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/4 cup flour
- 1/4 cup cornmeal
- milk (enough to moisten batter if necessary)
- salt and pepper
- pinch of cayanne pepper
- pinch of garlic powder
- veggie oil for frying
For the Remoulade (this makes alot):
- 1 cup light mayo
- 1/2 cup dijon mustard (if you have creole mustard, even better)
- 1/2 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon hot sauce
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- 1 stalk celery, thinly diced
- parsley, chopped
- juice of 1/4 lemon
- salt and pepper
What to do:
- Prep your remoulade so it has some time to sit and the flavors can meld together. All you need to do is add every ingredient together and stir. Done.
- Prep your okra fritters. Slice your okra and onions and saute for a few minutes to soften. Add to a bowl and allow to cool for a minute. Add your flour and cornmeal and season with some salt, pepper, cayenne and garlic powder. Stir all together. Beat your eggs with a fork and add to your veggies/flour/cornmeal mixture. Stir. If batter seems way too thick, add a bit of milk and stir. We kept our mixture pretty thick because I wanted a few thick, big fritters instead of a bunch of small ones. You want it thicker than pancake batter, but not as thick as bread dough! Reserve on side for a moment.
- Preheat your oven to 450.
- Now, let’s get your fish started. In a LARGE bowl, mix your salt with some water. We used about 2 pounds of salt and a cup or so of water. Lay about a half-inch to one-inch of salt in the bottom of your baking pan. Add two bay leaves (optional) for the fish to lay on.
- Stuff the fish (where it has been gutted) and add some lemon wedges, some crushed garlic cloves and a few thyme sprigs. Try and close the ‘gap’ as much as possible – you don’t want to get too much salt in there. Lay your fish on the bed of salt and (now the fun part) pile the rest of your salt on top of the whole fish. You want it to be at least an inch or two thick.
- Once you have your salt mound perfected, throw it in to your 450 degree oven for 25 minutes.
- While fish is cooking, fry up your okra fritters. Put about 2 cups of vegetable oil in a pan and heat till it’s ready to fry. Using a large tablespoon, shape a fritter and cook in the oil – I pressed down on the fritter to make it more like a flat disk instead of a ball. Allow to cook about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes tops before flipping (depending on how hot your stove is). When finished, allow to drain on some paper towels and sprinkle with a bit of salt and a squeeze of lemon.
- When your fish is ready, allow to sit for a few minutes and then break the salt crust with a sharp knife. Don’t cut into the fish, though! Throw away the bits of salt crust that come off and when you remove your fish, dust the extra salt off of it.
- Filet your fish by slicing one side of the meat against the bone. Remove the bone and plate your filets. Squeeze some fresh lemon juice and drizzle some of your favorite extra virgin olive oil on top of the fish. Serve with some okra fritters that are topped with the remoulade. Dig in!
CHECK OUT SOME OF OUR OTHER LENT-APPROVED FISH RECIPES:
- BREAD-CRUSTED FISH WITH A LEMON BUTTER SAUCE
- WHOLE, FRIED SNAPPER WITH A PARSLEY GARLIC SAUCE
- ANISE-FLAVORED SALMON IN PARCHMENT POUCH
- LIVORNESE FISH STEW