Whole salt-baked fish stuffed with lemongrass, thyme & jasmine tea

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Preparation info

  • For

    4-6

    • Difficulty

      Easy

Appears in

Fusion: A Culinary Journey

Fusion

By Peter Gordon

Published 2010

  • About

This cooking technique may seem like a huge waste of salt - but I promise you your fish will be really tasty and incredibly moist. A few years ago The Providores restaurant owners were in Istanbul for our AGM and we ate dinner at a restaurant on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Part of the meal consisted of two huge sea bass cooked in this style, although without any herbs added, and it was one of the top three fish I have ever eaten. I’ve also eaten a massive 5 kg turbot cooked the same way in a huge roasting dish and it was equally delicious, Cooking fish in this style is quite a novel thing to do, and when served as part of a dinner party it makes for a great talking point as it’s a real ‘get stuck in’ affair. There’s no need to remove the scales from the fish, but you will need to remove the guts, and it pays to remove the sharp dorsal spines with a pair of scissors so that none of your guests prick themselves. Cut the tail off if your fish is larger than your baking dish, then gently wash the stomach cavity with cold water and pat the whole fish dry with kitchen paper. The flavour from the jasmine tea will be most noticeable in the flesh closest to the stomach cavity, so make sure you divide that up evenly. A fish this large will serve 4-6 people, depending on what else is being served for the meal, but it goes well with baby potatoes, steamed greens or a tomato, rocket and feta salad.

Ingredients

  • 2 lemongrass stems, bashed, then roughly chopped
  • a handful of thyme
  • 2 Tbsp jasmine tea leaves
  • 1 whole lemon, roughly chopped with the skin still on
  • 1.5 kg coarse sea salt
  • 1 x 1.5-2 kg whole fish, prepared as on left (I used a lovely 1.5 kg bream)
  • 1 egg (optional, but it makes the whole thing work better)

Method

Preheat the oven to 160°C and place a rack in the centre of the oven. Ideally choose a ceramic baking dish large enough to hold the fish, but not so big that the fish gets lost. If you have to use a metal dish, line it with baking parchment - the salt can damage aluminium dishes. Mix the lemongrass, thyme and jasmine tea together with 1 Tablespoon of the salt and half the lemon and pack a third of this into the stomach cavity of the fish. Scatter the remaining lemon on the base of the roasting dish.

Mix the remaining lemongrass mixture with the remaining salt and the egg and lay ½ cm of it on the bottom of the dish. Place the fish on top, then pile the remaining salt on top of the fish, making sure it’s completely covered. Put in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. Take from the oven and rest for 10 minutes, at which point the fish will be perfectly cooked.

To Serve

You need to break apart the salt-crust. The best way is to use something like an oyster knife or a wide flat-head screwdriver. The salt will fly all over the place if you’re too rough, so take it easy. Once you’ve exposed the fish, pull the skin off (the scales help to keep the skin in one sheet) and using a fork or spoon carefully scrape the flesh from the upper side of the fish. There will be the odd bone, but that’s what you get with a whole fish. Pull the skeleton up from the fish to expose the lower part of the fish. Carefully pull the flesh up using a fork or spoon, leaving the skin in the dish, and again, look out for bones.