“Salt-baking. What’s the point?” You may ask. Here’s why…
When baking in a salt crust, you are creating an oven within an oven. Modern ovens are designed to be a moisture-free environment, so any steam released from cooking is whipped away by a fan. This is because caramelisation and moisture don’t get on (with too much moisture you wouldn’t achieve that golden skin on roast chicken).
When salt-baking, however, you are creating a mini oven, between the fish and the salt crust, that steams the fish. The salt absorbs the oven heat and then evenly cooks the fish but allows little steam to escape. This means that the flesh will remain beautifully moist, as the juices are locked in.
One of the things that worries people about salt-baking is the scary amount of salt. However, trout has lovely thick skin, which it needs as protection from the cold British water. It’s this skin that stops the fish from being overly salty.
As it cooks, the salt gently penetrates the fish, leaving the flesh perfectly seasoned. Adding spices and herbs to the salt is also a great way of flavouring the fish. I blitzed mine in a food processor with toasted, crushed fennel seeds, lemon zest and herb stalks until it was a vibrant green.
The salt crust cooks the fish faster than normal, so it needs less time than you might think. This also gives you time to rest the fish, in its crust, for 10-15 minutes. Here it will finish cooking and retain all of its moisture.
Resting means the juices can re-distribute themselves after the shock of the heat in the oven (just as it does with steak or a roast joint of meat). Don’t worry – it will still be piping hot when it comes to serve.
A wee note when shopping for this recipe – a 2kg trout can be pretty large, so if you have a small oven, bear this in mind. You don’t want to be beheading your fish just to get it in the oven! If you’re having trouble tracking down a large rainbow trout, sea trout or salmon make great alternatives.
The salt you use is also important. If you use good flaky sea salt, such as Maldon, you’ll most likely have to re-mortgage your house. Using cheap table salt will leave a chemical taste to the flesh. Good, coarse sea salt will do the job perfectly.
When you carry this green, salt-encrusted parcel to the table, there will be ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from all. Especially after the big reveal, when you gently chisel away at the crust to reveal beautifully juicy, blushing pink flesh. It’s a bit of a party piece.
*This recipe is gluten-free according to industry standards