THE concept of cooking food in a salt crust is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean countries centuries ago.
This ancient method of cooking doesn’t, as one might imagine, give an over-salted flavour. Instead, the salt crust helps hold in the moisture as the food cooks, and the dish will become infused with the flavour of the herbs in the crust. After cooking, the crust is broken and discarded.
As Easter approaches, our thoughts turn to seafood, particularly for Good Friday. While the concept of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent is a largely Catholic idea, many religious faiths and ethnic groups have adopted the concept of eating fish the day before the Easter weekend.
Cooking a whole fish in a herb and salt crust is a fabulous and easy way to present a seafood meal. Today’s recipe was devised by the two-hatted Bentley Bar and Restaurant head chef, Brent Savage. The restaurant is located at 320 Crown Street, Surry Hills (in Sydney), and is well worth a visit if you’re headed to the Big Smoke.
Brent, who is also an ambassador for Saxa Salt, has perfected the art of cooking using this method.
“Nothing is more festive than seafood and nothing is more impressive than a whole fish,” says Brent. “Amaze your family and friends with a beautiful dish that is visually striking and falls apart in the mouth.
Prepare this whole snapper baked in vine leaf and salt herb crust with preserved lemon and capers; the salt/herb crust infuses the fish as it cooks, and the lemon and capers are a perfect complement to the firm-textured, moist white flesh of the snapper.”
You heard the man; knock ’em out!
You will need:
• 3 cups flour
• 1 ½ cups Saxa rock salt
• 10 egg whites
• 2tbsp freshly ground black pepper
• 2tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
• 2tbsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
•½ cup finely copped fresh parsley
• 1kg cleaned whole snapper
• 20 vine leaves
Ingredients for preserved lemon and caper salsa:
• 1 large finely chopped chilli
• 1 rinsed and finely chopped preserved lemon
• 2 green onions
• 2 cloves finely chopped garlic (minced)
• 2 tbsp finely chopped capers
• juice of 1 lemon
• 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
• 15 ml sherry vinegar
• 2 tbsp fresh dill
• 2tbsp fresh parsley leaves
• 1 tsp saxa salt flakes
In a large bowl, combine flour, salt, egg whites, pepper, mint, tarragon, and parsley and mix until dough holds together.
Turn dough out on to a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes. Form dough into a ball, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Wrap the cleaned fish with the vine leaves until covered with an even layer. Turn dough out on to a lightly floured surface. Roll out into an even 30 x 40cm rectangle or until large enough to wrap the fish in. Place fish in centre of dough, then wrap dough around fish, pinching to seal. Place in a baking tray and place in the oven for 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine all ingredients to make the preserved lemon and caper salsa into a medium bowl and stir to combine.
Remove the fish from the oven and transfer to a chopping board. Using a sharp knife, crack through the salt herb crust and remove the fish. Discard the crust, and place on a serving dish. Pull away the vine leaves to expose the fish, leaving the leaves around the fish on the plate. Spoon the preserved lemon and caper salsa over the fish before serving.
Recipe by Bentley Restaurant and Bar head chef, Brent Savage