For months my daughter has wanted to cook an entire fish, not a piece or a half of a fish, the entire fish. It needed to have two eyeballs, gills, and the mouth. Since she doesn’t eat a lot of fish I would continue to get my salmon (Alaska Wild Caught) and Pacific Halibut for my wife and I. Needless to say, my daughter would be upset that we didn’t get the whole fish. “Dad, I want to eat the eye!!” I listened in horror, but smiled at the same time, as it takes a brave little girl for even thinking of eating an eyeball. Was her Asian roots materializing? Alessandra quickly quipped, “I want the red fish next time“, pointing to the Red Snapper. I promised that we would cook her whole fish soon, and after a couple of days, we went shopping.
On Friday afternoon, I picked her up from school and we went to Whole Foods for the necessary ingredients, and the snapper. The plan was to cook the entire fish in a mound of kosher salt, stuffed with lemongrass, orange, parsley, thyme, and salt and pepper. Alessandra pushed that little cart with desire and focus as we picked up each key ingredient. Her excitement was so cute.Unfortunately, the whole fish supply was out for the day, so we left with our mise en place (fancy words for ingredients). We would tackle the fish in the morning for an early Saturday dinner.
As you can tell, Alessandra’s excitement of cooking an entire whole fish hadn’t subsided from a night of sleep. She reminded me that morning of my obligation to complete the fish cooking activity, so off we went to the market to get her fish. Looking at the available fish we had to pass on the Red Snapper since it wasn’t fresh enough, but we did end up with a 2 lb Stripped Bass. Stripped bass would bring an appealing dish for even a 3-year-old. The crew at Whole Foods cleaned and scaled the fish for us before we left. For prospective parents trying to get their kids to cook with them, don’t introduce cleaning and gutting a fish for a while. Leave the imagery of fish guts for later and stick to the fun stuff.
The game plan was for her to cook the fish, and I was going to cook a Spanish fish stew to serve with the fish. After I got the ingredients cut up and ready, Alessandra went to work. Alessandra stuffed the fish with orange slices, then with the parsley and thyme, lemon grass, and then some salt and pepper. Overall pretty easy. Of course she had to poke the fish eyes a couple of times. Then the real fun begins as we emptied two boxes of Kosher salt into a bowl and poured some water into the salt to make it slushy for her to mold around the fish. She stirred the salt mixture with determination with her spatula while salt flew in the immediate vicinity. In a baking dish she poured 1 /3 of the salt mixture into the baking pan and made a bed of salt for the fish, just enough to cover the side of fish that is facing down. She placed the fish a bed of salt and cover it, as illustrated by Alessandra. It’s very important that you cover the entire fish and to make sure there is no cracking or exposed areas of fish . You are cooking the fish and the goal of the salt is to keep the moisture inside the crust.
Alessandra had a blast cooking this fish, and in the end you got a perfectly cooked fish inside a rock hard salt crust. To get the fish, crack the salt crust at the spine of the fish and carefully remove the salt from the fish. The fish is ready immediately to eat. As shown in the picture of the cooked fish, is the pine nuts recipe from Joyce Goldstein. Story and recipe from Carolyn Jung, a James Beard award-winning writer. Follow her on twitter @CarolynJung or follow her posts on www.foodgal.com The fish was then added to the stew and then topped with pine nuts, peas, and some basil for garnish.
Here is the recipe, and the only change was the method of cooking the fish. We didn’t cook the fish per this recipe, but the overall dish was very easy to make and a great way to spend a day cooking with my little princess chef. She didn’t eat the eye, but she did eat all of her fish. recipe is here:
For the fish follow these guidelines. With your oven @ 425-450 degrees For a small (2-3 pound) fish, bake 20-30 minutes. For a 5 pound fish, 40-45. For a 6 to 7 pound monster, give it about 60 minutes. I’ve seen other methods that ask for egg whites instead of water to create a stiffer salt paste, and some don’t scale the fish to prevent the salt leaching into the flesh. Overall this entire method is very stress free and perfect for a dinner party as the magician as you pull out a fish from a pile of salt!!!