Salt Crust - Roasted Sea Bream Perfect For Festive Occasions



Salt crust-roasted sea bream perfect for festive occasionsA whole sea bream makes something of an impact on the dinner table.
The fish, cooked in “shiogama-yaki” style, is a festive dish perfect for celebrations and the New Year.




“It’s so simple,” says Kobe-based cooking expert Hiroko Sakamoto.

All you need to do is cover the fish with salt crust, wrap it in newspaper and roast it in the oven.

“The oven is my culinary life partner,” says Sakamoto, who loves this striking Japanese-style roast dish.

It’s important to keep the scales on the fish.

“They cover the flesh like a lid. It retains the soup rich in umami inside and prevents the salt from seeping in too much,” says the chef.

Other fish with fine scales, such as “isaki” (chicken grunt) and “suzuki” (Japanese sea bass) can also be used in this recipe.

Spread out about two layers of newspaper and place the sea bream. Sprinkle salt while spreading the fin with the other hand. Salt should be placed under the pectoral fin as well.

About twice the weight of the fish in salt should be used. To retain its fine shape, place an egg in the hollow from where the guts were removed.

When the fish is covered entirely in salt, wrap with newspaper. Tightly tie around with string to accentuate its shape.

Opening the newspaper after oven-baking and seeing the pure-white fish that’s been formed is an exciting moment. The salt crust comes off easily when tapped softly with the back of a kitchen knife.

The delicate pink sea bream will then emerge. When the skin and scales are removed, they reveal juicy flesh with a subtle salty taste. The egg placed in the stomach has turned into “onsen tamago,” with a yolk firmer than the egg white.

If any is left over, the fish can be cooked with chopped “abura-age” (deep-fried thin tofu slices) or konjac to make seasoned rice.

And don’t throw away the bones and head. Rinse off the salt and simmer to make a clear “ushio-jiru” soup. That way you get to enjoy the entire sea bream.

Salt crust roast is a standard recipe at Sakamoto’s cooking classes for children. She takes extra care for cleanliness when cooking fish and suggests covering the counter with a waterproof sheet or thick paper.

“Kids and adults alike should be careful of the spiky fins. Cooking fish is fun,” says Sakamoto.

Serves four.

INGREDIENTS

1 whole sea bream (about 1 kilogram)

2 kilograms salt

1 small egg

METHOD

Remove gills from fish but do not descale. Place fish, head pointing right. Make an incision on the stomach at the side of pectoral fin and pull out guts. Slide in egg with shell. (If fish is small, do not place egg inside.)

Spread newspaper, lay half of salt and place fish, head pointing left. Place remaining salt on top. Apply salt to fins also. For a dynamic look, make pectoral fin stand up by placing salt under it.

Wrap entire fish with newspaper, making sure tail is standing up. Tie tightly with string.

Roast for 40 to 50 minutes in oven preheated to 200 degrees C. Cool in newspaper.

Unwrap when cool, break salt gently. Pull out fish and serve.