A good and very easy way to cook a whole fish is to bake it in the oven salthered in salt. One literally snows in the fish with a huge amount of salt, underneath and on top, like an avalanche. The salt will crustify during the cooking and keep the fish moist. When it is cooked, about 40 minutes, the crust of salt is removed, the fish cleaned and put on a serving dish. Drizzle a little oil and lemon juice, maybe a scattering of fresh herbs … and Bob’s your uncle … the absolute essence of fish, no frills, no fancy sauces to detract. The only fiddly part is the removal of the crust and filleting the fish … but even that is not so difficult and well worth the effort.
The fish I used is called ‘sarago’ in Italian … and I think that translates as some kind of seabream. I say ‘think’, because dictionaries are not very helpful when it comes to the translation of fish.
The sarago has been gutted by my nice fishmonger … but we did not remove its scales as one normally would before baking a fish. We want to keep the scales on so that the salt will attach itself better to the skin of the fish … and leave the fish free of the salt when it’s time to fillet it.
Here is the pyrex baking dish. Cover the bottom with a layer of salt. Ordinary salt will do (no need for kosher salt or grey salt or himalayan salt … it’s not going to get eaten) but it should be salt crystals … what Italians call ‘big salt’ – ‘sale grosso’ — and not fine salt.
I used the handle of a wooden spoon to break open the crust of salt that had formed during the cooking.
All it needs is some olive oil and maybe a little squeeze of lemon juice. This is the way a purist would like to eat his or her fish … there is something atavistic, almost, about this preparation … the sea gives us the gift of both fish and salt, and the earth complements it with olive oil.