Salt-Baked Fish ‘n’ Stews
We commonly think of table salt for recipes. Table salt has additives like iodine (to prevent thyroid disease) and an anti-caking agent to prevent lumping in humidity. Many chefs prefer kosher salt (additive-free, coarse-grained) for cooking and sea salt for table use because they have a softer flavor than table salt. Kosher salt easily draws blood when applied to butchered meat (koshering process). The salt dissolves easily and provides flavor without over-salting because of its large surface area.
Hawaiian sea salts (red or black) are specialty, finishing salts. The red variety has an iron taste and is used to add color. The black variety has a sulfuric aroma from the addition of purified lava.
Pickling salt is free of the additives that turn pickles dark and pickling liquid cloudy. Sel gris is a gray salt from France, and fleur de sel (salt flower) is a by-product of sel gris.
Maldon sea salt is a British finishing salt and has a light delicate flavor that is obtained by boiling sea water to form delicate pyramidal crystals. Rock salt is used to make ice cream.
Salt comes from salt mines or from the sea. Most of today’s salt is mined and comes from large deposits left by dried salt lakes throughout the world. Salt preserves foods by creating a hostile environment for certain microorganisms. Within foods, salt brine dehydrates bacterial cells, alters osmotic pressure and inhibits bacterial growth and subsequent spoilage.
The word “salary” was derived from the Latin term “salarium”, the name for a soldier’s pay in ancient Rome. The pay included a large ration of salt that had a high value and used for barter. The spice coined such expressions as “salt of the earth” and “worth your salt.”
Here’s a French dish that is simple as far as French cuisine goes. Stuff a fish’s cavity with herbs and lemons. Cover with salt and bake. The salt only lightly seasons the fish and traps all the juices and aromas from the herbs and lemon. Take the fish to the table, break open the salt and serve.
Salt encrusted Crappie
2 3/4-pound crappie (whole fish with heads and tails and clean cavities)
10 sprigs of thyme
4 sprigs rosemary
1 teaspoon tarragon or chervil
3 thin slices of lemon, halved
3 cups sea salt or kosher salt (a mix of 2 cups course and 1 cup fine)
1 egg white
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pat the fish dry inside and out with paper towels. Stuff fish cavity with thyme, rosemary, tarragon or chervil and lemon. Lightly oil the outside of the fish with olive oil. In a bowl, mix the salts and the egg white with your hand. Add water a little 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 fish about 1/4-inch thick. Place the fish flat on this bed and mound the salt around the fish about 1/4-inch thick creating a tight seal. Leave the head and tail exposed. Bake for 30 minutes, remove from oven to rest for 10 minutes. Carefully break off the salt crust and fillet the fish. Serves 4 to 6.
Fish Stew I
1 pound fish fillets cut into 1-inch pieces
2 tablespoons butter
1 large leek, cleaned and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fish sauce
3/4 cup white wine
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb
1 pound baby red potatoes, trimmed
Salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper (or more) to taste
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon
Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook and stir leek, shallots, fish sauce and 1/4 teaspoon salt in the melted butter until softened, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir wine into leek mixture, increase heat to medium and cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Mix fennel and potatoes into leek mixture and simmer, stirring occasionally until potatoes are nearly tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Add cream and stir to combine. Stir fish and tarragon into soup, cover and cook for 3 minutes. Stir gently, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until fish flakes easily with a fork, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper if needed. Serves 4.
Fish Stew II
1 to 1-1/2 pounds fish fillets cut in 2-inch pieces
4 large garlic cloves cut in half, green shoots removed
4 anchovy fillets, soaked in water for 4 minutes, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, to taste
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with liquid
1 quart water
1 pound small new potatoes, scrubbed and quartered or sliced
Salt to taste
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 sprigs fresh parsley, finely chopped
Place the garlic cloves and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a mortar and pestle and mash to a paste. Add the anchovy fillets and mash with the garlic. Set aside. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy soup pot or Dutch oven and add onion, celery carrot, 1/2 teaspoon salt and fish sauce. Cook, stirring until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes. Add the pureed garlic and anchovy. Cook, stirring until the mixture is very fragrant, about one minute, and then add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring often until the tomatoes have cooked down a bit and the mixture is aromatic, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the water, potatoes, salt (to taste) and the bay leaf. Bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low, cover partially and simmer 30 minutes. Taste, adjust salt and add pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaf. Season the fish with salt and pepper and stir into the soup. The soup should not be boiling. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fillets) or just until it flakes easily when forked. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley, taste once more, adjust seasonings and serve. Serves 4.