Salt-Baked Branzino with Olives, Lemon & Herbs

I think i’ve got a week-end project for you…
Really, i can’t stop smiling. Look what I made for lunch… Meet Pesce per Due in Italian or Bar en croute de sel in French.

Pretty, isn’t it? Today I’m going to show you one of my favorite way to enjoy fish. When people hear about the technique that consists of cooking a whole fish in a sea salt crust their first reaction is usually “That must be very salty!”, there’s also the occasional “Are you nuts!?”. A lot of salt is used in this recipe but the purpose is to create a perfectly hermetic seal so the fish can steam in its own natural essence. The fish also absorbs the aromas of whatever you place in its cavity – and that’s very good news for you my friends.

Take a mediterranean fish like this perfectly fresh branzino for example. He screams to be packed with bright mediterranean flavors such as lemon, rosemary, sicilian olives and fresh parsley. Doesn’t he look happy?…

Yes, a mediterranean fish packed with such bright aromas is a marriage made in heaven my friends and I’m sure Peter the Greek won’t disagree with me. Everything, from the moment of zen you’ll experience while preparing the fish to the Grand ceremonial of breaking the salt crust in front of your guests, every single little detail that goes into this dish is of gigantic proportions. You don’t believe me? Try one of those olives after it’s been cooked inside the fish.

So is it really salty you ask? Well no, it is just right. I give it the zen seal of approval. Highly recommended.

Salt-Baked Branzino
(serves 2)

One 2-pound fish (such as branzino, dorado, red snapper or black sea bass)
3 1/2 cups fine sea salt
3 large egg whites
4 sprigs parsley, stems and leaves separated, leaves chopped for garnish
2 sprigs rosemary
4 Sicilian olives
1 clove garlic
2 slices lemon

Serve with sauteed spinach, roasted tomatoes, hen of the wood mushrooms and shallots. And a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.Preheat the oven to 400′F. Trace a rough outline of the whole fish on a piece of parchment paper, and cut it out.

In a mixing bowl, combine 3 cups of sea salt and the egg whites with a wooden spoon (the mixture should feel like wet sand).

Place the parsley stems, rosemary, olives, garlic and lemon slices in the cavity of the fish. Spread the remaining 1/2 cup salt over a baking tray. Place the cut-out parchment paper on the salt and place the fish on top.

Use your hands to cover the whole fish with the salt and egg white mixture, pressing down onto the fish to pack it tightly. Bake for 20 minutes, without turning, until the salt crust is hard and golden brown.

Bring the baking tray to the table and break the salt crust with the handle of a knife or a small hammer. Brush aside the excess salt with a brush. Use a spoon to break the flesh away along the top side (it will pull away from the bone). Remove the bottom filet as well and serve immediately with sautee spinach, oven-roasted tomatoes with olive oil and thyme, roasted mushrooms and shallots. Drizzle a little olive oil on the fish and don’t forget to serve the olives! Enjoy.

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  • Mochachocolata Rita

    This weekend I am attending a pajama party! Woohoo!

    Hmm….

    skimpy lingerie clad ladies vs salt baked fish…

    hmmmm….

    this is too easy!

    SALT BAKED FISH plsssss

  • Manggy

    I’ve heard lots of good things about salt-baked fish (Jamie Oliver likes demonstrating the technique. A LOT). I can’t bring my frugal self to do it, though! Just the though of throwing away all that salt after… Sigh! *You* could serve it to me so I don’t feel guilty, though, haha! :) Michel Roux also made this in one of his books– he used plenty of whipped egg whites and drew a fish design on the exterior.

  • Fearless Kitchen

    I’ve always wanted to try a salt-crust grill, but never really had the courage to try. This looks fantastic and is certainly inspirational!

  • Peter M

    Ahh Zen, you're trying to seduce me and the people will think something's funny going on between us ! lol

    This is a loup de mer, non? We call this fish Lavraki, nice oils in the fish and sturdy for baking.

    The olive & herb mixture in the cavity sounds delightful.

    I thank you for the mention, for the dish and a belated Happy Bastille!

  • Dhanggit

    i swear zen , if my hubby sees these photos he will track you down until he eats this :-) this fish recipe looks glorious!! so tempting

  • AzAzura

    Oh Zen , I’ ve had one of them seabass cooked this way .. heavenly that was.Your fish with olives , lemon and herbs , they are definitely on my weekend feast list

  • Mary Coleman

    This looks so good!!! I haven’t seen branzino in Nashville, but your suggestion of red snapper should work perfectly. Can’t wait to try it!

  • Clumbsy Cookie

    My mom does the same thing with whole chickens and it’s very good! Zen, I think you should try to sell those olives as an organic version of viagra!

  • Ann

    Awesome!

  • Kian

    This technique is truly a great way to make whole fish. A Japanese friend of mine put red shiso (red perilla) and ginger instead of Mediterranean herbs. I put ginger, scallion and drizzle with a little sesame oil in mine.

    The fish is always moist and tender. Yum!

  • TavoLini

    I’ve heard about salt baked fish, but this is the first example I’ve seen–it looks great!

    I’ll have to try it..hope that I don’t mess up…

  • Adam

    Zen Man, cooking a whole fish was always something I wanted to try. I think you just sold me on it :) I hear the salt creates like a perfect insulating cast… very intriquing.
    Great flavors, and it doesn’t sound that complicated.

    You should take flakes of the fish with some olives and throw that in pierogi… just an idea.

  • [eatingclub] vancouver || js

    I’m with manggy here. Salt-baking is on my to-do list for some now, but I can’t bear the thought of using all that salt. Help! I might have to just bite the bullet and do it, because the fish you have here — so, so beautiful. . .Look at that white flesh! Moist and tender, and almost flaking itself! Argh, dilemmas, dilemmas. . .

    Okay, when I find branzino, I’m throwing caution to the winds!

  • Meghan

    this looks delicious… ive always wanted to try but never knew what kinds of fish would work… might take your advice with snapper… more suggestions welcome!

  • Helen

    I have always wanted to try this but never got around to it for some reason. i love the shot of the crust breaking open – gorgeous. He seems like such a happy fish ;)

  • glamah16

    I love this way of cooking both in preentation and results. I cook my pork in a salt bed and it really works.

  • Olga Berman

    This looks absolutely pretty and relatively simple, but I’ve never cooked or intend to cook a full fish (I even buy only skinless and boneless chicken breasts) :)

    Might copy the flavor profiles though.

  • Elle

    *sigh* I want to have this, out on the deck, just as the sun is setting, with a nice glass of wine and some good conversation. A slight breeze will make it perfect.

  • Chez US

    Isn’t that a great fish. We discovered it last year. Did not salt bake it; but, we did grill it whole stuffed with all the goodness you did. I love salt baked fish, though and salt baked potatoes – YUM!

  • Sophie

    Really nice presentation…I do have to admit that I especially like the talking fish photo :D .

  • Nicole

    Looks wonderful. I would love to eat it. I am a bit squeamish about working with the whole fish… head and all though.

  • Chicopea

    Zen I am digging that this is super nutritious. It looks really tender
    and yummy!

  • cakewardrobe

    What a good laugh to my last (slow) hour of work!! Hmm the Chinese should be used to fish looking at them while eating them.. but for some reason, I’m still scared of touching raw, scaly ones.. when I gain my confidence to do so, I must try another one of your recipes again!

  • Gloria

    This fish really look spectacular! love it! xGloria

  • acey

    this is the 1st time i’ve ever heard of salt-baking! ever!!!

    i love fish, too. and although my model friends say salt makes you look fat in pictures, i know i’ve just got to try salt-baking fish. this dish looks good (plus it’s my fave meat in the world!).

  • Kevin

    Baking a fish in salt sounds really interesting. I am going to have to try it. I like how the fish is stuffed with a lot of flavour.

  • Ana Banana

    THAAT.. is sooo smart!
    Who came up with this idea of sealing the fish with a blanket of egg whites and salt!?? Genius!

    Anyways, am back again Zen Chef! and I wish I had seen this recipe before I made my tilapia this evening.. not too pretty, I tell you! ;) (the fish fell apart..
    :( )

  • Jenny

    I’d love to see my boys’ faces if I brought a whole fish home to cook for dinner! I however think it looks fantastic and bet it tastes even better! I love that I always learn something new here!

  • Shreya

    beautiful series of picture for the dish:-0

  • doggybloggy

    this is heaven on a plate…wow the fish looks so succulent…

  • Nina’s Kitchen (Nina Timm)

    Freakin’ amazing, that’s what this is!!!!

  • Lisa

    Looks delicious. I might have to try some salt baked fish.

  • Monica

    great blog, congrats! will definately be spying your recipes from now on…

  • Emiline

    I’ve always wanted to try this! It looks great. I love all of the flavors you’ve got going on.

  • cakebrain

    I bet that fish is so full of flavour! The salt crust is a great dramatic presentation. Wow.

  • Uncle Dee

    your blog is my new textbook

  • Leslie

    I love the salt baking concept!
    Looks lovely!

  • cook eat FRET

    beautiful
    absolutely beautiful

    babbo does theirs with a lemon oregano jam that is TO DIE FOR…

  • cook eat FRET

    is loup de mer the same as branzino as peter suggested?

    ps – eating at alinea tonight… yay!

  • Colloquial Cook

    Le poisson n’a plus vraiment l’oeil vif et la langue claquante à la sortie de sa croucroute de sel! cela dit, ça a l’air su-ccu-lent. C’est toutes ces herbes que tu lui fous dans le bide, hein!! Sacré Zen.

  • Zen Chef

    Eh Rita. I can go attend the pajama party for you and leave you the fish. Deal?

    Manggy, take the leftover salt, add hot water and soak your feet in it. What about that for an idea? :-)

    Thank you fearless kitchen!

    Peter, yes it is loup de mer and no there’s nothing between us. hahaha

    Dhanggit, husband? Track me down? I’m freakin’ out here! hahaha

    Azura, isn’t it wonderful? :-)

    Mary, yes i’m sure it would be great with snapper too.

    Rita.. hahaha. I knew you were a genius! Viagra it is! :-)

    Ann. Thanks!

    Kian, i love the idea! Asian twist. I bet it’s awesome!

    Tavolini, it’s not as hard as it seems.

    Adam, thanks for the pierogie suggestion. haha. I’ll make some one of these days.

    Eating vancouver. Use the salt for a nice salt water soak for your feet. No waste in zen kitchen! haha

    Meghan, red snapper, black sea bass, dorado.. a small striped bass would work too. About 2 lbs fish works best!

    Helen, it is an happy fish.. err.. i mean it was! :-)

    Glamah, i bet cooking pork that way is great too! Thanks for the idea.

    Olga, you gotta try that. It will change your mind about cooking whole fish.

    Elle, wow. Such the perfect setting. I’m with you on that! :-)

    Chez us, that’s a fantastic fish grilled too. I love it!

    Sophie, hehe.. that fish was.. err .. fresh! :-)

    Nicole, the head is the best part!… The cheeks! :-)

    chicopea, it is super nutritious indeed! Did i pass my certification as a nutritionist? :-)

    Cakewardrobe, close your eyes and just imagine the fish is in fact the latest Louboutin shoes. Works everytime. haha

    Thank you Gloria. :-)

    Acey, you’ve got model friends!? [zen drooling..] Not the anorexic type i hope. haha! :-)

    Kevin, yes you’ve got to try that technique.

    Ana banana, thank you for visiting again! I didn’t come up with that technique. I’m zillion light years away from being a genius. :-)

    Jenny, oh yes. Do it and take pictures of them. hahaha.

    Shreya. Thank you. :-)

    Doggybloggy. Yes it is!!

    Nina. Yes!! Freakin’ is the word i was looking for to describe this dish! hahaha

    Lisa. You should! :-)

    Monica, thank you for your kind comments. You’re welcome here. :-)

    Emiline, great flavors! A must try.

    Cakebrain. Great drama and great taste. It’s showbiz for the palate. :-)

    Uncle Dee, well thank you. I take that as a big compliment! :-)

    Thank you Leslie. Welcome around here. :-)

    Cook Eat Fret.. You’re going to Alinea!!?? I HATE you! haha. I want to hear all about it. :-)
    Branzino is Loup de mer.

    Claire, t’as d’beaux yeux tu sais! :-) Une merveille ce poisson!
    Wow, je viens de repondre a tout ces commentaires? Je vais me coucher maintenant!

  • Parker

    That fish looks wonderful. Have a fish my dad caught in the freezer, can not wait to eat it.

  • Bren@Flanboyant Eats

    this is definitely inspiration to get serious about my fish and veg diet…