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.

Flood Update
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

Recipe Thumbnail

Adapted from Chef Michael Voltaggio, Food and Wine


Cooking Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the middle.
In a small microwave-safe bowl, cover the golden raisins with water and microwave on high for 15-30 seconds, until the raisins are plump. Let the raisins sit while you roast the eggplant.
Spear the eggplant with the cinnamon sticks, trying to get a few inches of the stick beneath the skin. Set the eggplant on a baking sheet and roast until tender, about 50 minutes. Set the eggplant in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the eggplant cool slightly, then pull out the cinnamon sticks and discard them. Peel the eggplant.
Drain the raisins and add them along with the eggplant flesh into a blender. Puree, drizzling the olive oil into the blender, until smooth. Season the puree with sea salt and cayenne pepper to taste. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix together the kosher salt and water until it looks like wet sand. If necessary add more water or salt in small amounts to reach the right consistency. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread about 1/4 of the salt onto the baking sheet, in a shape slightly larger than the fish. Set the fish on top of the salt. Stuff the cavity of the fish with bay leaves and lemon slices. Poke a short wooden skewer into the thickest part of the fish, behind the head. Pack the rest of the kosher salt over the fish, leaving the skewer visible, until the fish is covered in salt. Do not pack salt into the cavity of the fish, just on top of it.
Bake the fish for approximately 35 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted into the skewer hole reads 135 degrees. When the fish is done, let it sit out of the oven for 5 minutes. Crack the salt crust and remove it. Peel the top layer of skin off the fish, discard, and carefully separate the meat from the bones. Cut the spine near the gills and gently pull it out to expose the second layer of meat below. Serve the fish without skin alongside the eggplant puree.

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