What to CookThai

Pok Pok's Salt-Crusted Fish with Chile Dipping Sauce

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This week's guest editor is JJ Goode, the writer behind Andy Ricker's new cookbook, Pok Pok. All week, he'll be sharing some of his favorite recipes from the book, interviewing Andy about Thai cooking, and convincing us all to pick up a book and get in the kitchen.

Today: Build up the courage to cook a whole fish -- bones and all.

Pok Pok's Salt Crusted Fish on Food52

I’ve never been afraid of eating whole fish -- I don’t mind dodging bones or scouring the face for tasty bits. I will admit, however, to a fear of cooking one. The stakes involved are intimidatingly high: A whole fish looks so pretty and can be pricey -- I’m scared of screwing it up! 

Yet I’ve found the confidence thanks to Andy. During the last year, I’ve served my friends several whole fish dishes from his cookbook. I’ve made steamed striped bass with chiles and lime, and with soy sauce, ginger, and oyster mushrooms. (The basic method: Put fish on plate, pour on simple mixture of stuff, and steam.) I even got up the courage to lower porgy into hot oil, though it took no gumption to spoon over sweet-sour chile sauce just before serving it.

Of all the preparations Andy taught me, this is the one I make the most. It helps that it doesn’t require deep frying or hauling out my giant aluminum steamer. But the main reason I keep returning to it is that the salt crust keeps the flesh so moist that my big worry (will I overcook my beautiful fish?) is out the window. Further insurance against disappointment comes in the form of a chile-based dipping sauce so good that it could make an old shoe worth eating.

Plaa Phao Kleua (Grilled Salt-Crusted Fish with Chile Dipping Sauce)

For the fish

Serves 2 to 6 as part of a meal

1 (1 1/2- to 2-pound) whole tilapia, porgy, or red snapper, scaled, gutted, and cleaned
1 large stalk lemongrass, outer layer, bottom 1/2 inch, and top 4 inches removed
2 cups kosher salt
1 egg white, beaten
1/2 cup Spicy, Tart Dipping Sauce for Seafood

For the sauce

Makes about 1 cup

3/4 ounce fresh green Thai (about 14) or serrano (about 3) chiles
1/4 ounce cilantro roots, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 tablespoons lime juice (preferably from Key limes or spiked with a small squeeze of Meyer lemon juice)
1/4 cup Thai fish sauce
5 teaspoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro (thin stems and leaves), lightly packed

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here. 

Photo by Austin Bush

Reprinted with permission from Pok Pok by Andy Ricker with J.J. Goode, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

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Tags: Fish, Seafood