Red Snapper in a Salt Crust
When Mr. B and I were dating our favorite restaurant was a little beach cottage along Highway 101 in Encinitas, California. Owned by a Moroccan who grew up in Spain and France, the food was French in style and Mediterranean meets California in flavor. Live bands rocked the small space every weekend and despite sand between the old wooden floor boards it was impossible to get in without a reservation. After moving to the Midwest, I have recreated many of our favorite menu items, including killer Mai Tais and superb mussels. A stuffed pork loin in a port reduction sauce still haunts our taste buds and eludes my attempts at duplication. Now I can cross another dish off the list of successful replications- a salt encrusted sea bass.
Fresh whole sea bass are impossible to find in South Dakota, but with a bit of luck I managed to get my hands on a beautiful red snapper from the gulf. A recipe from Food and Wine inspired a salt encrusted fish served with a sweet puree of golden raisins and eggplant. The eggplant are ingeniously skewered with whole cinnamon sticks before roasting, which imparts a subtle cinnamon flavor into the soft flesh. To create the salt crust, you simply mix together a large amount of kosher salt and water until it resembles wet sand. The fish is stuffed with lemon slices and bay leaves and then buried beneath a thick layer of the damp salt.
After a turn in the oven, the snapper emerges perfectly cooked beneath a hard salt crust. Using a bit of force, you crack open the salt to reveal a tender and incredibly moist fish below. The skin is peeled back and the white flaky fish is served alongside the eggplant puree. Now in the restaurant the job of serving the fish table side fell to the owner’s father, an elderly gentleman who looked as if he had just stepped off a fishing boat in the Mediterranean. A man of few words, his tanned weathered hands deftly cracked the salt crust and with the skill of a surgeon he separated the meat from the skin and bones in perfect portions. My attempt to replicate his movements had far less picturesque results, but luckily the flavor was still the same- a delicate sweet fish that celebrates the best of summer and the sea.
We are still camping out in our house, hoping that the water does not rise and instead starts to recede. The best guess is that it will be at least another month before we can think about removing the large sandbag wall and moving our possessions home.
Red Snapper in a Salt Crust Print Recipe
Serving Size: Serves 4
- 3 4-inch Cinnamon Sticks
- 1lb (1 Medium or 2 Small) Eggplant
- 1/4 cup Golden Raisins
- 2 Tablespoons Extra-virgin Olive Oil
- Sea Salt
- Cayenne Pepper
- 3 lbs Kosher Salt
- 2 cups Water
- One 2-pound cleaned Red Snapper
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 Lemon, cut into slices