Swimming in the Mediterranean
While I have not been to Greece, I would like to eat like the Greeks. You can’t go wrong with simply prepared fish or vegetables. Or how about having some tzadziki, olives and fresh hummus? And of course, finishing the meal with fillo pastry with crushed pistachios and sweetened tea? All right, it’s time to book a ticket for some research. A business expense right?
Well, while I wait for this “trip” to come to fruition I will try to perfect a clean, beautiful and flavorful weeknight supper. There is a Greek restaurant in Astoria that doesn’t have a menu. The menu is what’s fresh from the market that day. Instead of building a dish around a menu they build, their entrée’s around what’s fresh. I try (albeit, not always successfully) to embody this idea while still staying true to my need to control and plan ahead. (P.S. - I am VERY controlling and VERY bossy)
The method I use here to prepare the fish is to cook it in a salt crust. Baking in a salt crust could feel intimidating, but it’s really pretty easy and very impressive looking. Here, I used fresh Bronzini. But you can use just about any fish that looks good - snapper or bass would work well too. Make sure when you are buying the fish that the eyes look clear- not foggy. Foggy or cloudy eyes are an indication that it is not the freshest fish. Have the fish monger leave the head and the tail on but make sure they clean the scales and gut the belly. (Are you queasy yet? Yummy)
Salt Baked Whole Fish with Aromatics and Tahini
6 cups kosher salt
¼ cup chopped mint
¼ cup chopped cilantro
¼ cup chopped parsley
1 full tablespoon mashed ginger
1 teaspoon chopped red chili
Zest of a whole lemon, and juice reserved
1 tablespoon sumac
½ cup of water
2 tablespoons soy sauce + 1 extra tablespoon reserved
A 2-pound whole fish- like Bronzini or Sea Bass
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon mashed ginger
2 scallions (white and light green parts only), small dice
5 slices of lemon
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees (or 350 convection).
In a large mixing bowl, combine the salt, mint, cilantro, parsley, chili, ginger, lemon zest and sumac. Make sure to mix really well. Add the water, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, and lemon juice into the salt. Mix well. You want the salt to resemble packed snow - good enough to throw a snowball (but we don’t throw snow in the kitchen). Place half the salt mixture in the bottom of a large roasting pan or Pyrex-like dish.
Take all your fish mixture ingredients, except the lemon slices, and mix in a small bowl. Pack your fish mixture in the cavity of the Bronzini. Then lay your lemon slices inside. Place the stuffed fish on the salt bed and drizzle the last tablespoon of soy sauce over the fish. Take the rest of your salt mixture and cover the fish completely.
Bake for 35 minutes. The salt crust will become very hard like a shell. Let the fish rest for 10 minutes before touching it. Then break open the salt crust by using a large spoon. Brush as much salt off from the tops and sides of the fish. Peel off the top layer of skin and remove the top fish fillet. Transfer to a platter. Remove the exposed center bones- try to remove the whole thing at once. I like to run my fingers over the fish to check my work and make sure there aren’t any bones I missed (there usually are). Transfer the bottom fillet to the platter. Serve with lemon wedges and a side of tahini (recipe below).