Salt-Baked Branzino with Citrus, Fennel and Herbs
- ACTIVE: 1 HR
- TOTAL TIME: 1 HR 45 MIN
- SERVINGS: 8
Manhattan club and restaurant manager Artan Gjoni loves this succulent fish recipe from his native Montenegro, a coastal country in the former Yugoslavia that harvests both fish and salt from the Adriatic Sea. Artan grew up in an old walled port town called Ulcinj, known for harboring pirates in the late Middle Ages, where as a kid he ate plenty of salt-baked branzino. The salt crust seals in moisture, gently infusing the fish with the bright flavors of parsley, cilantro and rosemary.
- 6 pounds kosher salt, plus more for seasoning
- 12 parsley sprigs, plus 3/4 cup finely chopped leaves
- 12 cilantro sprigs, plus 3/4 cup finely chopped leaves
- 12 rosemary sprigs, plus 3/4 cup finely chopped leaves
- 16 large egg whites (2 cups)
- Four 1 1/2-pound whole sea bass, such as branzino, cleaned
- 1 lemon, thinly sliced, plus lemon wedges, for serving
- 1 orange, thinly sliced
- 1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large bowl, mix the 6 pounds of kosher salt with the chopped parsley, cilantro and rosemary. Add the egg whites and stir until the salt is evenly moistened.
- Season the sea bass cavities with salt and fill them with the herb sprigs and the sliced lemon, orange and fennel.
- Using half of the herbed salt mixture, form 2 mounds on each of 2 large rimmed baking sheets. Pat each mound into a rectangular bed about 1/2 inch thick and the length and width of the fish. Set each fish on a salt bed and cover with the remaining herbed salt, patting to enclose the fish completely.
- Bake the fish in the oven for about 45 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the fish behind the head registers 135°.
- Using a wooden spoon, tap the salt to crack it; lift off the crusts in large pieces. Carefully remove the fish skin and lift the fillets from the bones. Transfer to a platter and serve with lemon wedges.
There isn't much wine imported to the U.S. from Montenegro, but its coastline lies just across the Adriatic from Italy's Apulia region, which produces terrific, crisp whites that will pair very well with this elegant white-fleshed fish dish.