Sea bass baked in a salt crust

Most regions of the South of Italy cook fish in this way

This method of baking in a salt crust ensures perfectly cooked, moist fish.  It is served with a simple mayonnaise flavoured with lemon, white wine and fennel seeds.  You can cook any of the bream family, red mullet, John Dory and even Gurnard in the same way.

Serves 4

1.75 g (4 lb) table salt or coarse sea salt

2 egg whites

1 sea bass, weighing about 1.5 kg (3 Ib), gutted but not scaled

FOR THE LEMON SAUCE

600 ml (I pint) Fish stock

I tablespoon fennel seeds

1 small lemon, sliced

120 ml (4 fl oz) white wine

I egg

I egg yolk

300 ml (10 fl oz) olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6.

  1. For the sauce, put the fish stock, fennel seeds, sliced lemon and white wine into a pan and boil rapidly until the liquid has reduced to about 4 tablespoons. Strain into a small bowl and leave to cool. Put the whole egg, egg yolk, reduced stock mixture and some salt and pepper in a liquidizer with the motor running, gradually pour in the oil until you have a thick mayonnaise.  Transfer to a bowl and season to taste.
  2. For the fish, mix the salt with the egg whites and spread a layer of this mixture in a roasting tin. Put the sea bass on top and then completely cover with the remaining salt mixture, making sure that there are no gaps (but don’t worry if the tail is still exposed). Bake in the oven for 30 minutes.
  1. To serve, crack the salt crust by giving it a sharp tap with the back of a knife, lift it away from the top of the fish and then carefully transfer the whole fish to a serving plate, leaving behind the rest of the salt crust.
  2. Pull away the skin from the top of the fish and gently lift the flesh away from the bones.  Lift the bones off the remaining fish and discard, then remove the remaining fillets.  Put the fish on 4 warmed plates, spoon a little of the sauce to the side

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