Classic French dishes aren't always simple to make, but we're in luck with this one. Just get some great, fresh white-fleshed fish and, stuff the cavity full of herbs and citrus, and rub the outside with olive oil. Make a slush out of coarse and fine sea salt, egg white, and some water, then pack the salt mixture around the fish, and bake it in the oven for half an hour. The salt only lightly seasons the fish, but it also traps all the juices and aromas from the herbs and lemon. It's one of the best fish preparations I know, completely foolproof, and most importantly, totally impressive to the bring to the table.
Note: You can use any small, whole white-fleshed fish such as sea bass, trout, sole, or bream.
- 2 whole small fish about 3/4 pounds each, or one whole fish, about 1 1/2 pounds (see note)
- 10 sprigs of thyme (you can also use rosemary, fennel fronds, tarragon, or chervil)
- 3 thin slices of lemon, halved
- A drizzle of olive oil
- 3 cups sea salt or kosher salt (preferably a mix of 2 cups coarse and 1 cup fine)
- 1 egg white
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Pat the fish dry inside and out with paper towels. Stuff each fish cavity with half the thyme and lemon. Very lightly grease the whole outside of the fish with olive oil.
In a bowl, mix together the salts and the egg white with your hand. Add water a bit at a time until the mixture reaches the consistency of wet sand that you might use to build a sand castle.
On a rimmed baking sheet, create a layer of the salt mixture approximately the size of the two fish, about 1/4 inch thick. Place the fish flat on this bed, and mound the salt around each fish, about 1/4 inch thick, creating a tight seal. Leave the head and tail exposed.
Bake for 30 minutes, then allow to rest for 10. Carefully break off the salt crush, and fillet the fish inside. Serve right away.