k Ibiza Salinas Salt Baked Sea Bass k
k With roasted vegetables & pine nuts served with a classic caper butter lemon sauce k
This is my homage to the sea and salt of Ibiza. I was incredibly lucky to gain access to the protected salt flats of Ibiza…
Las Salinas that are an extremely important part of the island’s heritage. The income it brought paid for the building of the walls of Ibiza Town, it is also a vision of beauty for holidaymakers flying in to land. This classic Spanish/Ibicencan technique of baking fish in a thick layer of salt makes a dramatic centrepiece that wont fail to impress.
When you first cook this dish it seems impossible to believe that it will not turn out to be unbearably salty.
But fear not as the salt sets into a solid crust acting like a kiln or an oven around the fish that ensures the moisture is held within. This is a great principle of cooking and it will give you the most perfectly baked fish you have ever eaten. A key thing to remember is to make sure the fish isn’t scaled because the scales help keep the moisture inside the fish as it cooks and stops the salt permeating the flesh. For added drama it is great to serve at the table – just cover the crust with a clean cloth and use a heavy spoon to crack it open. The salt crust will fall off in large chunks, then just brush away any crumbs on the surface of the fish.
Fillet the fish from the bone the best way that you can or in big flaky chunks is also perfectly fine. You don’t even need to scale the fish as the salt crust will pull the skin off with it. This dish works well with a simple salad or a medley of roasted vegetables – the beauty of this is that you cook the vegetables for the same time and length as you cook the fish.
The addition of garlic, thyme and a good squeeze of fresh orange adds a very subtle sweetness and really intensifies the flavours. A lovely caramelisation happens when you roast the vegetables at a high temperature, I sprinkle over pine nuts 10 minutes before serving which gives fantastic nutty texture.
Finally I like to serve this recipe with a classic piccata made with the best quality capers I could get my hands on…a cheap quality caper is like a cheap olive, simply yuk.
This gorgeous sauce is cooked gently with garlic, olive oil (again the best you can get) and salted butter, it’s then finished with lots of chopped parsley and lemon juice. The buttery, briny flavours perfectly suit white fish – deliciously fresh, zingy and piquant. You can’t get a better classical sauce for fish.
Any fish can be cooked whole in salt, whole salmon is good as are snapper and turbot. It sounds obvious but check that you have a baking tray large enough for the fish and that it fits in your oven!
For the salt baked fish
2 kg coarse rock sea salt
2 large free-range eggs beaten
1½ tablespoons fennel seeds
1 lemon rind
1.5kg sea bass (gutted, scales left on)
1 onion (or large spring onions)
small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns
For the caper butter lemon sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
40g best quality capers
4 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley
juice 1/2 lemon
Roasted vegetables with pine nuts & hint of orange
2 medium carrots (cut into 1.5cm dice)
Half small butternut squash (cut into 1.5cm dice)
1 red pepper (cut into 1.5cm dice)
5 small purple potatoes – or 1 fresh beetroot (cut into 1.5cm dice)
½ red onion (cut into 1.5cm dice)
2 cloves garlic
3 sprig fresh thyme
1 teaspoon onion salt (or sea salt)
2–3 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
Juice of one orange
Handful of pine nuts
- Preheat the oven to the highest temperature
- Stuff the cavity of your fish with the lemon slices, onions, parsley (or any fragrant herbs) and pink peppercorns
- Put the rock salt into a large bowl with 2 tablespoons of water, your eggs, fennel seeds and the grated rind of a lemon. Mix everything together until it feels like wet sand
- Spread two-thirds of the mixture on the base of a roasting tray in a thick layer, then lay the fish on the salt bed and completely cover it with the rest of the salt so you get a layer just over 2cm thick. Pat down firmly, I tend to leave the head and tail out
- Now prepare the roasted vegetables – it’s a bit laborious but try and cut all the veg into 1.5cm dice (just so everything cooks at the same time). In a large bowl gently toss the vegetable in the olive oil, crushed garlic, fresh thyme and onion salt and squeeze over the juice of an orange
- Now put the salt cover fish and the vegetables into the oven at the same time and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the fish from the oven, take a sharp knife and stick it through the salt into the middle of your fish. Carefully touch the knife to your lip and if it’s hot, the fish is ready. Leave to one side for 5-10 minutes
- Then add the pine nuts and roast for a further 10 minutes. If the vegetables are blackening too much then cover them with foil.
- While the fish and vegetables are cooking you can make the sauce. In a pan add 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and warm on a medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute then add the capers and parsley. Add the butter to the pan and allow to gently melt, remove from the heat and squeeze in the lemon juice
- By now the salt on your fish should be hard as a brick, cover with a clean cloth and give it a whack around the edges with the back of a spoon. If you’re lucky the whole top will peel off. Carefully brush the excess salt off your fish, trying not to let the salt touch the flesh, then gently move it to a platter using a fish slice. Run a knife along the spine of the fish up to the head, then cut across the fish below the head. Use the knife to find the bones, then carefully lift the fillet up and discard the skin and bones and put beautiful big flakes of fish on a serving platter with the vegetables, lemon wedges and glorious sauce spooned over the fish