Salt-Baked Branzino with Zucchini Pistou

Thomas Keller cooks whole fish in a salt crust to keep it moist, then serves it with a chunky zucchini-basil pistou—Provence’s version of pesto—and lemony cherry tomatoes.

  • Active:
  • Total Time:
  • Servings: 4


  • 12 ounces cherry tomatoes, preferably heirloom
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 large egg whites (about 3/4 cup), lightly beaten
  • 7 cups kosher salt (about 2 1/2 pounds), plus more for seasoning
  • 1/4 cup ground fennel
  • 2 whole branzino (about 1 1/4 pounds each), cleaned
  • 1 1/4 pounds zucchini
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, plus more for garnish

How to make this recipe

  1. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil and fill a bowl with ice water. Using a sharp paring knife, score an “X” on the bottoms of the tomatoes and blanch them in the boiling water for 5 seconds; drain immediately and chill in the ice water. Drain again. Peel the tomatoes. In a small bowl, toss the tomatoes with the shallot, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate.

  2. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large bowl, stir the egg whites with the 7 cups of kosher salt, the fennel and 3/4 cup of water until the mixture resembles moist sand. Spread a scant 1/2-inch-thick layer of the salt in an oval baking dish large enough to hold both fish. Pat the salt into a neat oval and place the fish belly to belly, on top. Pack the remaining salt on top of and around the fish. Poke a hole into the crust at the thickest part of the fish, behind the head. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the hole registers 135°. Transfer the dish to a warm place and let the fish rest for 10 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, quarter the zucchini lengthwise and cut out the seed cores; discard the cores or save for soup. Cut each quarter into 2-inch pieces. In a small saucepan, combine the zucchini pieces with the remaining 6 tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the 1/2 cup of basil leaves and cook for 1 minute. Transfer the mixture to a blender. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt and pulse to a chunky puree.

  4. Run a serrated knife horizontally around the base of the salt mound and carefully remove the top crust. Transfer the fish to a work surface and fillet them, removing the skin. Transfer to plates. Spoon the zucchini <em>pistou</em> around the fish and garnish with the tomatoes. Drizzle some of the tomato marinade on top and garnish with basil leaves. Serve right away.

Suggested Pairing

Minerally, medium-bodied southern French white.

Contributed By Photo © Chris Court Published July 2013

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