Friday, June 17, 2022

Fish, Nothing But the Whole Fish - Encased in Kosher Salt

Hard to believe but the easiest way to cook a whole fish is to roast it encased in a dome of kosher salt. 


Cocooned inside its salt blanket, the protein rich-fish cooks in its own juices. The technique is very low-tech. No fancy machines or tools required. All you need is kosher salt and water.


Some recipes call for egg whites and water to moisten the salt, but from my experience, water alone works perfectly. After the fish has cooked inside the coating of moistened salt, crack open the hardened salt and use a fork to effortlessly peel back the skin. A chef’s knife easily separates the meat from the bones.


When creating the salt coating, it is important to use kosher salt. Do not use table salt and definitely do not use salt that has been treated with iodine, which has an unpleasant minerality. Personally, I prefer Diamond Crystal kosher salt because it is additive-free.


When you buy the fish, ask to have the guts and gills removed but there is no need to have the fish scaled because the skin will be removed before serving. If the only whole fish available in your seafood market is larger than you need, a piece without the head or tail can still be used. To protect the flesh, place a small piece of parchment paper across the cut end, then pack the moistened kosher salt on all the sides to completely seal the fish.


Even though the fish is cooked inside salt, the flesh never touches the salt. The result is mild tasting, moist, delicate meat.


After removing the salt-roasted fish from the oven, let it rest on the table on a heat-proof trivet. The sight of the pure white mound, warm to the touch and concealing a hidden treat is a delight. Before serving, take the fish back into the kitchen to remove the salt casing, head, tail. skin and bones.


What kind of fish to use?


So far I have used the technique on trout, salmon, sea bass, salmon trout and pompano with equally good results. 



Choose a fish that is as fresh as possible, with a clean smell and clear eyes. When you press the body, the flesh should spring back. Cooking time is roughly 10 minutes per pound but will vary depending on the size and thickness of the fish.

 

In general, a whole fish weighing 3 to 5 pounds will require a three-pound box of kosher salt.  Since that is an estimate, it is a good idea to have a second box of kosher salt on hand. 



Salt-Roasted Fish

Use only enough water to moisten the kosher salt so the grains stick together. Too much water will create a slurry, which will slide off the fish. Because kosher salt is not inexpensive,  use only as much as you need. A quarter-inch coating around the fish is sufficient. 


Placing herbs and aromatics inside the fish’s cavity can impart flavor and appealing aromas when the salt dome is removed. Sliced fresh lemons, rosemary sprigs, parsley, cilantro, bay leaves or basil all add to the qualities of the dish but discard before platting.


Depending on the density of the flesh, generally speaking, one pound of fish requires 10 minutes of cooking at 350 F. 


The mild fish can be served with a tossed salad, pasta, rice or cooked vegetables. The fish goes well with freshly made tartar sauce, salsa verde, pesto, romesco, chermoula or pico de Gallo.


Prep time: 10 minutes


Cooking time: 30 minutes if the fish weighs 3 pounds, 50 minutes if the fish weighs 5 pounds


Resting time: 5 minutes


Total time: 45 or 65 minutes depending on the size of the fish


Yield: 4 to 6 servings depending on the size of the fish


Ingredients


1 whole fish, 3 to 5 pounds, with the head and the tail, cleaned and gutted but not necessarily scaled


1 3-pound box kosher salt, preferably Diamond Crystal kosher salt


½ to 1 cup water


2 cups fresh aromatics and lemon slices (optional)


Directions


1. Preheat oven to 350 F.


2. Wash the fish inside and outside. Pat dry and set aside.


3. Pour 2 pounds of the kosher salt into a large bowl. Moisten with ½ cup water. Mix with your fingers.  If needed, add more water a tablespoon at a time until the salt sticks together.


4. Select a baking tray that is 2 inches longer and wider than the fish. Line with parchment paper or a Silpat sheet.


5. Place a third of the moistened salt on the bottom of the lined baking tray.


6. Lay the whole fish on top of the salt. Place aromatics and lemon slices inside the fish, if desired.


7. Carefully mold the rest of the moistened salt over the entire fish. If more salt is needed, moisten an additional amount of salt.


8. Place the baking tray into the pre-heated oven.


9. After 30 minutes for a 3-pound fish and 50 minutes for a 5-pound fish, remove the baking tray from the oven and allow the fish to rest for 5 minutes.


10. Using a chef’s knife, slice into the salt dome on the back side of the fish, along the fin line. Make another slice on the bottom of the fish. Lift the salt dome off the fish and discard. Using the knife, make a cut across the gills and the tail. Insert a fork under the skin and lift the skin separating it from the flesh.


11. Have a serving platter ready. Using the flat side of a chef’s knife, slide the blade between the flesh and the skeleton along the fin line. Separate the flesh from the bones. Try as best you can to keep the entire side of the fish intact, but no worries if the flesh comes off in several pieces. When you place the flesh on the serving platter, you can reassemble the fillet.


12. Turn the fish over and repeat the process on the other side.


13. Discard the head, tail, bones and skin. 


14. Serve the fish at room temperature with sauces of your choice and side dishes.

So delicious. So easy to make.

And email me photographs of YOUR FISH when you make it.

Enjoy!


Thursday, June 16, 2022

A Mother's Day Treat Now a Father's Day Special - Broiled Lobster

My mother loved lobster. For Mother's Day we would pick her up from her apartment and drive to Little Saigon  to Dong Khanh a restaurant an hour south of Los Angeles. With our cousins and sons, we would order a dozen dishes and eagerly turn the lazy Susan in the center of the large table so we could sample all the dishes.


My mother's favorite was the salt and pepper stir fried lobster. Picked from the salt water tank, the lobster would be paraded to the table for our approval, then it was walked to the small kitchen in back to be transformed into that wonderful dish.


Cooked in the shell, eating the lobster took a lot of work. But the sauce was so fragrant and tasty, we didn't mind. And mother, always a gnawer of bones, would gleefully take her time, making certain she enjoyed every last drop of sauce and all the tender sweet lobster meat.

It's difficult to think that my mom passed away sixteen years ago. She seems very much alive in my memory. Unfortunately, Dong Khan closed years ago. So, life as we all know, moves on.

Truthfully, I loved the lobster at Dong Khan as much as she did. When I was growing up, fresh lobster was an occasional restaurant treat. Dipping big chunks of lobster tail in the hot, melted butter was one of my first culinary epiphanies.

At home, I make oven roasted lobsters topped with bread crumbs and sweet butter. Prepping the lobsters takes a bit of time but the result is well worth the effort.

Oven Roasted Lobsters

Many supermarkets have live lobsters. If you live near an Asian market, live lobsters are usually available along with a variety of other live seafood. Some markets will clean the lobsters without charge. In which case, you will only have to prep the individuals parts as described below.

For this recipe, because the claw shells need to be cut open, smaller lobsters 1 1/2 pounds each are preferred. Add a grilled steak and you'll have Surf 'n Turf. With a salad and a side vegetable like salt boiled broccoli, that is a beautiful meal. Dessert can be a fresh fruit salad and a nice chocolate eclair.  It all depends on what the "dad" in your home loves.

The day ahead, the lobsters can be prepped and refrigerated covered with plastic wrap (not aluminum foil) and final cooked in the broiler just before serving.

Serves 4

Prep Time 30 minutes

Cooking Time 10 minutes

Total Time 40 minutes

Ingredients

4 1 1/2 pound live lobsters
1 cup bread crumbs, preferably home made
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, pat dried, finely chopped stems and leaves
2 tablespoons sweet butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
Sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

Directions

When you bring home the live lobsters, place them in the kitchen sink. Run water on them to cool them off. Do not submerge them in water. They live in salt water and fresh water will kill them.

Put 3" water into a large, tall stock pot. Place on stove with the burner on high. Cover. Bring water to a boil.

Preheat oven to broil or to the highest temperature possible.

Heat a sauce pan on a medium flame. Add olive oil, season with sea salt and black pepper. Add Italian parsley and mix well. Sauté until lightly browned. Add bread crumbs. Stir together and sauté until lightly browned. Set aside.


If the pot is not large enough to handle all the lobsters at once, do them one or two at a time. Pick the lobster up by the body and place the head into the boiling water. Hold it there for a minute. Cover and cook 2 minutes. Lift cover. 

Using tongs lift the lobster up and flip it over in order to submerge the lobster tail into the boiling water. Cover and cook another 3 minutes.

Using tongs, transfer the now red lobster to the kitchen sink. Run cold water over the cooked lobster. Continuing cooking the lobsters until all 4 are cooked.

If you want to make stock, which is a good thing to do, reserve the cooking water and add the shells after your meal, simmering the shells until the liquid is reduced by half, then strain out the shells and discard. The stock can be reserved in air tight containers and frozen for later use.


When the lobsters are cool to the touch, using kitchen shears, cut off the rubber bands on each of the claws.

Working with one lobster at a time, place a lobster into a large bowl. Wear gloves if you want and be careful when you are working with the lobster that you do not cut your hands on the sharp parts of the lobster's body.

Twist off the claws at the body. Place them in the bowl. Twist off the tail and the flippers at the tail. Place them in the bowl. Place the body with the open side up in the bowl. Using the kitchen shears, cut the lobster tail in half. In the sink, rinse off the tail. Remove the black vein and discard.

If you enjoy the savory bits inside the body--which I do--pour them into a bowl. Personally, I discard the black egg sack and reserve the green tomalley, which is delicious. The video shows how to serve the tomalley on toast with avocado.


But if you are not into those flavors, simply wash out the body in the sink and run the disposal to get rid of the bits that will be redolent if they linger.

Using the kitchen shears, cut the body in half, so there are legs on each side. Continue to wash and clean the half-bodies to remove any residual parts of the egg sack or tomalley.

Separate each claw from its sections. Separate each of the sections.

Using the kitchen shears, remove half of the shell of each claw. Cut off the top of the shell from each of the sections.

Line a baking pan with parchment paper, a Silpat sheet or aluminum foil.

Place the tails, claws, sections and bodies onto the prepared baking pan, cut side up.

At this point, the prepped lobsters can be covered with plastic wrap (not aluminum foil) and refrigerated to cook the night before or in the morning. Remove the baking pan of lobsters from the refrigerator an hour before serving.

Spoon the seasoned bread crumbs onto the cut sides. Slice 1/8" pieces of sweet butter and place on top of the bread crumbs.


Place the baking sheet into the oven. Cook 4-5 minutes, checking to be careful the bread crumbs do not burn.

The sweet butter will melt, flavoring the bread crumbs and lobster meat.

Serve hot with a salad, side dishes and an ice cold beverage.

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