Fish in salt…

One of my favourite ways to make (and eat!) fish is “in salt”.
There is absolutely nothing complicated about this dish and it is really delicious! Trust me.
You need two ingredients to make fish in salt: Fish and salt!
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To be honest you will find this ancient seaside Portuguese recipe is not very well-known in Portugal, it is common mainly in coastal areas… for obvious reasons!
Personally, I love cooking “fish in salt” when I have friends over for dinner because everything is in the oven way before they arrive and you can pamper your guests with the best of Portugal: fresh fish and good olive oil. Simple. After all, less is more…

Judging by the amount of salt that is used in this recipe you may be led to think that it is salty, however you will find that the amount of salt that goes into the fish is just right! The salt will encrust the fish, make it cook evenly and keep it moist…

My favorite fish for this “in salt” recipe are Black and Mediterranean Bass, Salmon or Corvina fish.
Well, you can use almost any whole fish as long as it has scales! Just ask your fishmonger to gut the fish and remove the gills. However, remember it is really important to keep the scales for the scales will protect the flesh from the intense salty taste.

The ingredients are…

1 to 1.5 kg fish (about 2-3 pounds)
3 kg of salt (about 3 pounds)

You can stuff the fish belly with herbs (dill, parsley, cilantro) or sliced lemon…whatever taste you find more appealing…For some time I tended not to stuff the fish because I really liked to feel the authentic flavour of the fish…however I have found it is convenient to do so as the herbs and/or the lemon will keep the salt out of the inside of the fish…

So here is how it goes:

1-Preheat oven to about 180ºC (about 350ºF).
2-Carefully rinse the fish in cold water and pat it dry with paper towels.
3-Stuff its tummy with lemon slices or/and herbs.
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4-Layer a baking pan (that is big enough for your fish!) with salt, gently lay the fish on this bed of salt and cover it with more salt, the layer should be at least 2.5 cm thick (about an inch)…
5-Lightly splash the top salt layer with water to help the salt form a crust when it bakes.

You may add pre-boiled small potatoes…
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Bake in the oven 15 minutes per pound of fish…
Let the fish rest for about 15 minutes before removing salt, it will continue cooking slowly even after it’s out of the oven.

So as to remove the fish from its salt cage, you gently crack the salt crust thereby removing the top layers of salt. Gently pick up the fish using two spatulas. This is generally a team effort as you will ensure the fish comes out looking like…a fish!
It is really important not to tear the skin or the salt will get into the flesh. Then, remove the herbs and/or the lemon and brush off any salt remaining on the fish.

Important tips:
*Use course kosher salt…
*Fish with scales…
*Ideal fish size is 1.5 kg (about 3 pound)…
*Goes well with small potatoes and a good Portuguese olive oil!
Portugal is famous for its rich taste of olive oil…

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