As the kitchen workhorse in my family, I tend to keep preparations fairly simple, hoping the ingredients will speak for themselves. John, my most frequent culinary co-conspirator is a bit more daring than I am, and if we cook something that involves blow torches or skewers or reduced sauces, he’s probably the brains behind the operation. So it was with this fish, of which, I admit, I was highly suspicious. I recant entirely. I t was fun to cook and extremely tasty. When It came time to file the story, I thought John should do the honors. — Maria
In what now seems like a biennial cooking device splurge event, Maria and I recently popped for a Big Green Egg, a Kamado-style ceramic cooker that uses lump charcoal. Why the heck would we spend that kind of money on a grill? That’s a question we went around on for over a year. We were drawn to the BGE for a variety of reasons, though not primarily the ability to cook a steak at a reliable 650deg without the flames scorching it to a crisp. High heat definitely was a factor, but primarily so that we could create a stand-in for the wood-fired pizza oven I lust after but probably won’t build until we move to Orcas Island. Another reason was slow cooking—the BGE’s ability to reliably hold a low temperature for many hours on to cook things like pulled pork barbeque or brisket. That said, when it came to our regular Saturday night extravaganza, the first thing we decided to try was whole fish.
The big question was what sort of fish to cook. Definitely not planked salmon–we wanted this baby to take advantage of the BGE’s ability to create a combination of baking (without losing moisture), smoking and charcoal cooking effect. I managed to twist Maria’s arm and to get her to try a recipe for salt-baked fish. This is one that’s well-treated in Epicurious and draws on a couple of excellent recipes from Gourmet and Bon Appétit. The recipe from the BGE Forum’s cookbook helps translate the more conventional recipe to the BGE environment.
The process is exceptional in a variety of ways. With regard to the BGE, there’s the prospect of putting this odd fish preparation on a stack of seven sheets of newspaper over 400 degrees of fiery wood heat without the whole thing catching fire. Amazing. With regard to the salt crusting process, it’s the element of putting a vast amount of salt with the consistency of wet sand on a couple of fish and having the resulting fish not only not be salty, but also be incredibly moist and tasty.
- It’s worth saying, first of all, that we hit the wrong time of year to get Branzini at a reasonable price. Rather than have us spend $60 on fish for two, Monahan’s, our great fish monger directed us to a sweet couple of white bass at about 1/10th the price. No, not a great Mediterranean fish, but this process took our two humble fish and turned them into something extraordinary. Here they are, stuffed with lime slices , garlic and flat-leaf parsley.
- Mixing the salt with egg whites created a substance like wet sand which we used to cover the fish in two great heaping mounds.
- As the BGE recipe suggests, what you want to aim for is something golden and cakey. That’s a breeze with the BGE, incidentally. Just peek through the chimney occasionally. Helps to have a flashlight! It took about twenty minutes to get to this point.
- Now, granted, a fully-cooked and partially prepared fish is not necessarily the prettiest sight, but it should be very clear from this picture that the fish was cooked perfectly and extremely moist. The taste of the fish was stunningly good.
Combined with a nice salsa verde like the one in Bon Appétit or the one we threw together with tomatillos, it makes for a pleasant summer’s meal under the stars.