Whole roasted fish shouldn’t just be reserved for 5-star restaurants. It’s a simple and fresh dish that can be made any day of the week. The result is a perfectly seasoned and moist fillet that goes great with vibrant greens and a crisp bottle of wine. If you’ve been eyeing that whole sea bass at your seafood counter, grab it and keep reading.
It boils down to two things: ease and flavor. Truthfully, most of the work is on the fishmonger to gut and descale the fish so that it’s ready to cook when you bring it home. Be sure not to get it deboned since the bones flavor the fish while it’s baking along with the salt. Between the bones, the salt and the high-quality extra virgin olive oil, roasting fish whole is a foolproof way to impress anyone in a short amount of time. It’s also incredibly forgiving. The only thing that could go wrong is overcooking, but keep reading and we’ll tell you how to get a perfectly cooked, whole roasted fish every time.
For this recipe we decided to use sea bass, but other types of fish like dorade, red snapper, or branzino work great as well. Rinse and pat dry your herbs, slice your lemon and place aside before assembling the salt mixture. Cooking becomes more enjoyable and less of a chore when you can prepare your meal without fussing with ingredients.
In addition to being easy, roasting a whole fish is such a rustic cooking technique which means you can play around with the flavors. For this recipe we went with rosemary, thyme and parsley, with no particular quantity of each. A handful of herbs is all you need and feel free to play around with whatever you have on hand. Other herbs that pair well with fish are dill, tarragon and chives just to name a few.
Our recipe calls for 3 pounds of salt to 1 pounds of fish, which sounds like a lot, but scaling back because you’re watching your sodium intake would be doing your fish an injustice. The skin acts as a barrier that keeps too much salt from being absorbed into the flesh resulting in perfectly seasoned fish.
When researching the best way to go about roasting fish in salt, we came across a few different methods. Some recipes call for just salt to be loosely packed around the fish, while others advise a drizzle of oil with the salt to give it more of a damp sand texture. However, we went with water for a few reasons.
Salt without a binding agent is difficult to handle making it harder than necessary to form around the exterior of the fish. The result is a more cracked and crumbly shell upon completion, and a less even distribution of seasoning throughout. Salt and oil could work, but why waste your good EVOO when water works just fine? The skin of the fish is already oily and helps keep the fish moist as it roasts. If an olive oil flavor is what you’re looking for, we recommend drizzling upon serving.
For the salt and water mixture, you want to shoot for a loose paste consistency. For this recipe we only tested on a 1-pound fish, so if your fish is larger or smaller, you may have to eyeball it. As long as you can spread it and mold it around the fish, you’re good to go.
Roast the fish at 400 degrees for about 30 minutes, but remember if lighter or heavier than a pound, the cooking time may need a bit of adjusting. The best thing to do is to remember the weight of the fish prior to preparation so that you can do some cooking math to calculate roasting time. For example, if you get a sea bass that’s 1 ½ pounds, cook the fish for about 40 to 45 minutes, 2 pounds for an hour, etc.
Once out the oven, crack the crust with a knife, but be careful to not to puncture the skin. Use a brush to sweep away the salt crystals and a spatula to move the fish to a cutting board. How you serve it is up to you at this point.
A whole roasted fish on a platter is a showstopper, but could be a turnoff for some. If that’s the case, peel away the skin and use a spatula to lift the fillet away from the bone and plate. Flip the fish over and repeat on the other side. Drizzle with Colavita extra virgin olive oil, give it an extra squeeze of lemon and serve with your favorite roasted veggies.
Leftover bones of all types make for the base of a flavorful homemade stock. Fish stock comes in handy when preparing seafood chowders, fish stews, paella and many other classic dishes. Homemade stock freezes for up to six months and is a cooking essential, especially during the winter months. Don’t plan on making stock immediately? Toss them in the freezer for now. Once ready, a few stalks of celery, carrots, onions, herbs, water and an InstantPot will get you homemade, flavorful stock in less than an hour!