I had the pleasure of doing a cooking demo at the Minneapolis Home & Garden Show just a few short weeks ago with Sea Change executive chef Jamie Malone. Since the show, Malone was named to Food & Wine Magazine‘s list of Best New Chefs 2013! Very exciting for her, and for Minneapolis. If you’re waiting for a show at the Guthrie to enjoy a meal at Sea Change, you’re so missing out. Very soon, when spring arrives, make your way over to their stunning patio, overlooking the Stone Arch Bridge, and feast upon oysters and perfectly cooked, sustainable fish, washed down with beautiful wine. A night to remember, for sure.
And for a night at home in front of a roaring fire, because that’s just where we’re still at, make this simple, elegant fish. I hadn’t baked fish in a salt crust before doing the demo with Malone, but I sure will now. First of all, it’s really fun. The crust is just egg whites and kosher salt, mixed until it feels like wet sand. It takes just a couple of minutes to pat it around the fish—and draw on a smiley face, per Malone’s suggestion—which can be done ahead by a few hours if you like. After a brief bake, crack open the crust (very impressive) to reveal moist, silky fish, not salty at all but perfectly seasoned, ready to eat alongside spring vegetables with a drizzle of your best olive oil. You can’t beat the elegance and simplicity.
I made the version in the picture here with whole snapper because I hadn’t called ahead for striped bass. After having both (the striped bass at the Home & Garden Show with Malone vs. the snapper I made), call Coastal Seafoods ahead for the striped bass (they can order it but don’t stock it); its meatier flesh is a perfect fit for baking inside the crust.
Whole Fish Baked in a Salt Crust with Fennel & Olives
Sea Change Executive Chef Jamie Malone
1 2-3 pound farmed or hook-and-line caught striped bass, cleaned and scaled, fins removed
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 oranges, 1 cut into 1/4-inch slices; 1 zested and juiced, reserved
4 egg whites
4 cups kosher salt plus more more
3 Tbsp. butter, divided
3 fennel bulbs, cored & cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/4 c. dry white wine
1/2 c. picholine olives, pits removed, torn into halves
1/4 c. finely minced chives
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Whisk egg whites into soft peaks. Stir in 4 c. kosher salt until incorporated. Mixture will be the texture of wet sand. Set aside.
Rinse fish and pat dry with a clean kitchen towel. Fill the cavity with orange slices and thyme sprigs.
Line a baking sheet with parchment and lightly coat with oil or pan spray. Use a few handfuls of the salt to create a 1/2-inch base in the shape of the fish but a bit larger. Lay the fish on the base. Cover with remaining salt and pack to create a fish-shaped dome over the fish. Add a smiley face!
Bake the domed fish for 10 minutes. Rotate pan 180 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer through the salt crust behind the head. It should register at 135 degrees F; if not, continue baking until it does.
Remove from oven and allow the fish to rest for 10 minutes.
While the fish bakes and rests, prepare the fennel saute: Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large sautee pan over medium heat. Add fennel so that it rests in one layer; cook for 10-15 minutes until it begins to lightly caramelize. Add white wine and allow the wine to reduce until almost dry. Stir in olives, orange juice and zest. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until juice is reduced and fennel is glazed. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon of butter and chives; season with kosher salt to taste. Keep warm.
When fish is ready: Using a large kitchen spoon, crack and remove the salt shell from the fish. Carefully remove the meat (and skin, if you like) from the fish, or better yet, allow your dining companions to do it themselves. Serve with fennel saute.