Save this classic interactive dish from Spain for a day when you score an impeccably fresh fish, ideally right at the dockside from a returning fisherman. When I helped the talented Creek-American chef Michael Psilakis write his cookbook, he taught me the perfect way to gauge doneness in fish: Poke a thin skewer into the center and leave it there for a few seconds. Remove and immediately press against your lower lip. If the skewer is hot, the fish is done. Below, I've suggested a digital thermometer, in case you're not comfortable with the skewer method.


  • 1 (3-pound) whole red snapper or sea bass, sea bream, or porgy (gutted but not scaled)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 long strips orange zest (removed with a vegetable peeler)
  • 4 small sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 to 5 pounds kosher salt
  • Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
  • 1 small lemon, cut into wedges


Preheat the oven to 400°F. Rinse the whole fish and pat it dry with absorbent paper towels. Season inside the cavity with pepper, and place the orange zest and thyme inside. In a heavy roasting pan or earthenware casserole large enough to hold the fish and all the salt, make a 1 1/2-inch layer of salt. Make a shallow, fish-shaped impression in the salt and lay the fish on top. Distribute the remaining salt around and over the fish so it's completely covered. Pat the salt down gently. Bake, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. After 35 minutes, poke an instant-read digital thermometer through the salt into where you think the thickest part of the fish will be; the temperature should reach 135°F.

Tap the salt firmly to crack (it will have formed an armorlike crust). Break the crust and pull off as much of the salt as possible. Peel away and discard the skin, then gently lift away the top fillet using spatulas, transferring it to a warm platter. Now, lift the skeleton away by pulling it up gently by the tail. (The head is attached; it will lift away also.) Discard the zest and thyme. The lower fillet will be exposed; lift it and peel away the skin (easy peasy). Use a pastry brush to flick away any bits of salt still adhering to the tender flesh. Pull the fillets gently apart into four portions and transfer to warm plates. Season with a little more black pepper, drizzle with a generous amount of exquisite olive oil, and serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Serves 3 or 4 Pairings: CENTRAL COAST: L'Aventure Roussanne, Paso Robles FARTHER AFIELD: Sancerre, Loire Valley, France

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Submitted 8/31/13.
Source: The New Wine Country Cookbook: Recipes from California's Central Coast by Brigit Binns
Submitted By: b smith

Salt-Baked Snapper