The freshness of the fish is the most important element here; if branzino isn't available and at its height of freshness, substitute black bass or red snapper. The salt crust seals in the juices but does not make the fish taste salty. Rubbing the fish with olive oil ensures that the crust will not stick to it, so use more than 3 tablespoons if necessary. Serve the fish with simple roasted potatoes and fresh thyme or with wilted greens. At Komi, the encrusted fish is presented whole and filleted at the table.
Note: Branzino is available at BlackSalt, Cannon's, M. Slavin & Sons and River Falls Seafood and some Whole Foods Markets. It can be special-ordered at Frank's, Harris Teeter stores and Whole Foods.
Servings: 2 - 3
- 1 (1 1/2 to 2 pounds) whole branzino, gutted, scaled and cleaned at the fish market, with gills removed (may substitute black bass or red snapper)*
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or more if necessary, plus additional to serve at the table
- 6 egg whites
- 2 1/2 cups kosher salt
- 3 lemons, quartered
- Coarse sea salt
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Rub the entire fish liberally with the oil.
With a hand-held or stand mixer, whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold in the kosher salt, being careful not to overmix and collapse the egg whites. Spoon one-third of the mixture lengthwise in the center of the prepared baking sheet. Place the fish on top. Spoon the remainder of the salt mixture over the fish to cover it completely. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a warm place and let it rest for 15 minutes. Crack and remove the salt crust.
Fillet the fish by peeling off and discarding the skin and removing the cooked fish from above the bones with a spatula or large serving fork, then gently pulling the bones up and away from the fish, exposing the bottom fillet. Serve with plenty of olive oil, quartered lemons and coarse sea salt.
Adapted from chef Johnny Monis at Komi.
Tested by Marcia Kramer.
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