Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Whole Fish (Baked in Salt) on Turkey Day

Every year, my in-laws get spiral cut ham for Thanksgiving dinner and I'm generally left to fend for myself. To make the meal special for this ovo-lacto-pesca vegetarian, I decided to try the salt crusted method of cooking fish. I've done a lot of planning and gathering of supplies. This right here is basically all I need to bring with me to the in-law's house tomorrow:

If you don't know what I'm talking about when I say "salt crusted," just picture a fish buried in a big mound of salt, kinda like you would bake a fish fillet in a sealed parchment/foil pouch (and it steams while it's in there). They say there's nothing like the moistness of salt crusted fish. Here are a few sites that have inspired me so far (some of them have pics of the bizarre-ness):
My first big decision was to pick out a fish. But, since you want the freshest possible fish for this preparation, it's hard to know who's gonna have what on the day before Thanksgiving. I called PT Hastings. I visited Tan-A. And I was prepared to go to that awesome place at Hull and Belt Blvd (can't remember the name). But, I wound up going with the sure thing: the otherwise prohibitively expensive Yellow Umbrella on Patterson (price was less of an barrier considering the occasion, and the fact that they speak English - but for red snapper or rock fish/striped bass, hit up Tan-A). It was really an easy choice, since Matthew Tlusty (of Limani fame) has sorta endorsed the Yellow Umbrella as the best/freshest fishmonger in Richmond (supplied by the same distributor as Limani - RIP). I went with a Branzino (lupe de mar, the one in the back) and a Royal Dorado (the fatty in the front - which I can't find any info about online).

The only other time I've had fish baked in salt was Branzino at D'aqua in DC and we liked it a great deal. One of the best parts was this sauce they drizzled over top of the meat when plating. At Karen's request, I'll be trying to duplicate that sauce. All we know is that it had EVOO, lemon juice, lemon rind, and herbs. I'll be adding some capers in my rendition and maybe a couple other things. The most important component was surely "good quality oli-oil," as Jamie Oliver says). So, since it's a special occasion, I splurged on the pictured bottle of Lucini from Kroger. It's really fruity and peppery, almost as good as my favorite EVOO from California. I'm so glad that it lived up to the hype, because there was a wide variety of brands and prices at the store (including some Rachel Ray yummo crap).

I'll be cramming the insides of the fish with lemon slices, fresh thyme, garlic cloves, parsley, rosemary, olives, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and probably some crushed fennel seeds. Hmmm, maybe that's too many of the ideas from those links above. It's up in the air, really. This is a "before post." I'll bring my camera to the spiral ham fest and amuse myself by documenting my cooking process.

Come on back later in the week! (here's Part 2)


“Royal Dorado” (or Tsipoura or Aurata/Orata or Gilthead seabream) is extremely moist with a mild sweet flavor, firm and flaky flesh. For way too much info about this fish, click here, or here for a recipe.


  1. Anonymous6:26 PM

    Your picture is gorgeous! (except I think that fatty in front is giving me the eye)

  2. I even impress myself sometimes. The fish are gorgeous (testament to Yellow Umbrella), but the int'l isle products as backdrop certainly helps.

    For the record, I'm not a shill for any particular fishmonger. Each has their purpose and I think most don't get the attention they deserve for quality of their product. With Carytown seafood gone, it'd be worthwhile to compile of list of who's left and what they tend to offer.

  3. I hope you have an awesome Turkey Day!!!

  4. Poh fishy...I'm glad my turkey doesn't have a face :)


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