During a trip to Grand Asian Market in Cary today, I decided to buy a whole live fish. That experience was a little stressful, however. I wondered if you take your fishy home alive as you do with lobster (I really hoped not). Or they dispatched it for you. That question was quickly answered after I had chosen our dinner swimming in the tank in front of me. The saleslady scooped up the fish with a large net, took it back to her station and thumped it good a couple of times with a large wooden mallet. The fishmonger quickly gutted it and scaled it. And I was presented with the freshest fish possible. What even makes it easier to order was the number of signs depicting on how you want your fish butchered from #1: scaled and gutted to #6: sashimi style. I always find it hard to describe what I wanted done to the fish. This makes the process as simple as ordering from McDonald’s.
Now I was in a dilemma on how to prepared it. I didn’t want to mess around with different spices and seasonings. I just wanted to taste the freshness of the fish I had just purchased. I thought there was only one way to go—fish baked in salt.
I have to admit there was some grumblings at home where I was told, “You’re going to ruin it. It’s going to be too salty!” as I covered the whole fish with 3 pounds of salt. Here’s the fish straight out of the oven after 40 minutes as 460 degrees. (Don’t ask me why that temperature. That’s what the recipe said and I follow instructions.)
The preparation is extremely simple. I put some whole pepper corns and some lime slices in the cavity of the fish. There’a not really even a need to do that. The fish marinates itself. Then completely cover the fish in a thick mound of salt. You don’t need to waste salt on the tail or head. It makes for a nice presentation to have those parts exposed when you serve it. I normally would use Kosher salt, but I didn’t have enough at home and the Asian market had pound cans of salt for 89 cents. Don’t worry that you are going to use too much. You can’t.
After baking, a very hard and thick crust will be formed on top of the fish with the excess salt left on the sides. Break through that crust and serve taking care not to drop the cooked fish in the salt or it will be salty. I think it’s easiest just to open your little salt tomb of fish right at the table and allow your guests to serve themselves.
And what was the result? All that I think that needs to be said is we wanted to run out and get another fish after devouring this one. The meat was tender and juicy and perfectly cooked. I think I miscalculated on the size/number of fish because the fish that ended up on our plates was enough to maybe serve one person let alone two. So that makes a great reason to venture back to Grand Asian Market. And cleanup is a breeze too. The salt easily melts in your sink. Rinse off your pan and you’re done!