Sunday, June 28, 2009

Day 102 - Salt-Baked Fish

Saturday night was Marcy Time. You know the drill: veggies and/or fish. I'm running out of recipes!

I recycled the Sicilian-Style Sautéed Greens from Day 48, since they were such a big hit. This time, instead of almonds, I used hazelnuts (I had them from the Skate recipe). Again, it was delicious, and again it garnered raves.

The fish, on the other hand....

Salt-Baked Fish (p. 141)

OK, I completely take responsibility for the fish being clanky. It was a last-minute idea to do this recipe, and instead of hunting down a proper specimen, I made a hurried stop at the grocery store in Koreatown, grabbed what they had, and took my chances. What they had was Croaker. Who ever heard of croaker? Evidently, it's a somewhat common fish. They didn't have a big one, just smaller ones, so I got two.

I also picked up some salt there. Martha calls for Kosher salt, but what they had was coarse sea salt. I knew that Kosher salt is ofter called coarse salt, so I figured I'd be OK.

Well, once I opened the package of salt, I realized I might be in trouble. This salt was much less refined than your average Kosher salt, somewhere between Kosher salt and rock salt. Yikes! I had to use the whole four pound bag, and Martha said I'd only need three pounds. Would it bind together to create a steam vacuum the way it was supposed to??

Preparing the fish was quite easy, some busy work with slicing lemons, washing herbs, but on the whole, quick and painless. And cooking fish in a coffin of salt is so crazy and unusual! I had a rapt audience the whole time!

As for cooking time, Martha said 15 minutes per pound, but I was cooking two fish which, together, weighed a pound and a half. Was I supposed to cook them for only 15 minutes, because each fish, individually, weighed a pound or less, or should I cook them for 22.5 minutes, because together they weighed 1.5 lbs? Eeek!

There's a doneness test that involves a metal skewer being inserted into the thickest part of the fish to check for warmth. The closest thing I had to a metal skewer was my meat thermometer, so I used that. And when I checked at 15 minutes, it came out cold. So much for 15 and 22.5. I ended up cooking them for about 30 minutes.

Amazingly, the fish was cooked really well, perfect degree of doneness. But wait, I'm getting ahead of myself.

The cracking of the salt crypt is pretty fun and wacky. The salt did bind and it got really hard and crunchy and required some serious muscle to pound through. Once you get to the fish, then it's just about exhuming the bodies, and shoveling the salt to the side.

The skin didn't peel away as easily as Martha suggests it might, but I think that probably had mostly to do with these particular fish, being as small as they were. It was a chore to get the flesh off the bones, and eventually I just started dumping the fish meat onto a plate, which meant we were picking bones out of our food for the rest of the night.

I need a lesson in deboning! I'm still pretty ignorant about the anatomy of a fish - I should definitely stop everything and take those fish lessons in the beginning of the chapter: How to Fillet a Flat Fish and How to Fillet a Round Fish. It might remove some of the mystery for me.

In the end, I think the salt-bake method is valid and effective, and fun and kicky. The flavors are rather tame, they really let the fish be the star. Unfortunatly, I chose some really stupid little fish, and that brought down the quality of the recipe. I'd like to do this again with Kosher salt and a nice big snapper or sea bass, like Martha suggests.

Jeff: B (For shopping poorly)
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Midway through the "exhumation"

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