Serves a Crowd

Whole Baked Fish in Sea Salt with Parsley Gremolata

January  4, 2010
3 Ratings
Photo by Mark Weinberg
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

The first time I tasted Pesce al Sale was at a restaurant in Milan. I remember the dramatic presentation of the baked fish encrusted in salt and cracked open tableside, revealing a steaming, aromatic and succulent fish. This preparation is my favorite way to eat a whole fish, and it's easy to do at home. Have your fishmonger clean and scale your fish for you. Once cooked, filet the fish and serve simply with extra-virgin olive oil, lemon and parsley gremolata. Note that since the fish cavity is stuffed the cooking time will run about 10 minutes longer than unstuffed. —TasteFood

Test Kitchen Notes

Whole Baked Fish in Sea Salt with Parsley Gremolata by TasteFood

This method for cooking a whole fish has the dual benefit of being both effective and fun. (Basically, it provides an opportunity to play with your food.) Another plus is flexibility, as it's the method that really counts here: cooking a whole fish in a salt crust keeps it incredibly tender and moist. TasteFood calls for a 5 pound fish, but we used a 2.5 pound red snapper, halved the rest of the ingredients and decreased the cooking time to roughly 25 minutes. The simple gremolata is a bright, refreshing adornment for an otherwise gorgeously simple piece of fish. - A&M —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • For the fish:
  • 1 whole fish, approx. 5 lbs., such as snapper or sea bass
  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced
  • 1 small bunch parsley sprigs
  • Fennel fronds from one bulb, halved lengthwise
  • 4 pounds coarse sea salt
  • 2 egg whites
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Lemon wedges
  • For the Parsley Gremolata:
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Finely grated zest from one untreated lemon
  • Pinch sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  1. For the fish:
  2. Preheat oven to 450 F.
  3. Place lemon slices, parsley and fennel in cavity of the fish. Do not overstuff.
  4. Combine egg whites and sea salt in a bowl. Mix well to moisten salt.
  5. Spread 1/3 salt on bottom of large baking dish or pan. Lay fish on top. Pour remaining salt over fish, covering completely. If needed, tail can be exposed.
  6. Bake in oven 40-45 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 10 minutes.
  7. Crack open crust with small hammer or knife. Remove and discard crust. Fillet fish.
  8. Arrange fish on warm plates. Drizzle with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice from wedges. Serve with Parsley Gremolata.
  1. For the Parsley Gremolata:
  2. Combine parsley, garlic and lemon zest in a small bowl. Season to taste with a pinch of salt and pepper.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Basil
  • epicharis
  • Sherry Rose
    Sherry Rose
  • Iris9
  • cheese1227

29 Reviews

Basil October 3, 2020
Made this last night using 2 4-pound red snappers for 6 people. Came out phenomenal.
epicharis April 1, 2018
This was tremendous, but would have been inedible had we scaled the fish. It was just my husband and I so we used a gutted, non-scaled branzino. I looked up other recipes for pesce al sale and found an even split between those calling for the fish to be scaled and those that didn't.
Philip April 14, 2015
By far the best fish recipe. Simple and amazing taste. Thank you !
Sherry R. March 31, 2015
Hate fennel. Any suggestions for a substitute?
TasteFood March 31, 2015
Yes, simply omit the fennel.
Sherry R. March 31, 2015
Thanks - too easy!!
Iris9 May 18, 2012
Just made this tonight. Great recipe, but I had an issue with the salt crust. The egg white ratio didn't match the amount of salt. Though it turned into a hard shell in the oven, a lot of the salt got into the fish, making it inedible. This was because the salt mixture wasn't wet enough. I watched a video elsewhere, and the chef's paste was much wetter. He also first brushed the fish with oil. I'm going to attempt it again though, as the salvaged non-crazy-salty pieces were incredible.
Rivka May 18, 2012
One note - and I don't know why I didn't write this when I first posts about this recipe - but you need to buy the fish with scales on. I Halle Ed to mention. To my fishmonger that I was roasting in salt, and he said, "glad you told me," then didn't scale the fish. The scales protect the fish from the salt.
taniagoulart February 24, 2013
i didn't read the comments before I went to the store so now i have a fish that was scaled - is there any way to do this with the scaled fish?
JadeAyes June 22, 2010
I uploaded some pics. I tried it tonight with a 2lb snapper. It came out phenomenal. My only issue was filleting it. Any suggestions?
Fran M. February 5, 2012
When I lived in Sardinia and had something similar at one of the local restaurants the chef came out to the table grabbed the tail and just pushed on the meat near the end of the tail fin and the whole thing just fell off. He did the same with the other side leaving all the bones and the head and tail.
new2cooking May 27, 2010
This was terrific. I used small trout and lessened the cooking time to about 25 minutes--they came out more tender than any fish I've ever cooked, and absolutely delicious. I prepared the Parsley Gremolata but the fish was so good on its own we barely used any!

Oh, and the presentation was great. Blew my foodie boyfriend away. Thanks for a great dinner date idea.
cheese1227 March 15, 2010
Is there a video on this? I have failed twice and I know it is something in my own technique because others are having such good luck with it.
aargersi March 15, 2010
MariaRaynal, La452 and I made this last night and it was SO good, and FUN! Cracking open the salt to get the fish out is AWESOME! Great recipe ...
Rivka March 6, 2010
I made this last night for a dinner party, and it totally blew my guests out of the water. The look on their faces as I took a hammer and hacked away at the top crust was priceless. Midway through the meal, we all looked up at each other and laughed as we realized that we couldn't stop the moans of "mmm!" Thanks for bringing this dramatic dish within reach of the home cook.

Two notes: first, I made a 6.5-pound red snapper, which easily fed 6 with leftovers. I needed 6 pounds of salt to cover the fish, and the tip of the tail was still sticking out. Second, as delicious as the filets are, the cheeks are by far the best part -- don't miss it!
TasteFood March 6, 2010
I am so happy you liked it - thank you for your comment!
WinnieAb January 21, 2010
Congrats! Another win that is well deserved!
Oui, C. January 21, 2010
Congratulations! This is a terrific looking dish, I can't wait to try it myself. Bet the kids will love it too!
eatboutique January 20, 2010
so pretty! congrats!
TasteFood January 20, 2010
Thank you everyone for your nice comments!
MrsWheelbarrow January 20, 2010
Lynda - a lovely recipe and well-deserved recognition!
dymnyno January 20, 2010
I have always wanted to do a recipe like this...thanks for making it easy!
Food B. January 20, 2010
Congratulations, Lynda! I'm so excited for you!
TasteFood January 20, 2010
Thanks, Susan!
aargersi January 20, 2010
Congratulations! I have this on my "try when there are people over for fun with food" list ... have been wanting to try this technique for awhile - and yours sounds great!
TasteFood January 20, 2010
Thank you aargersi! I still have my cedar plank that I plan to use for your recipe - once the rains stop!
TasteFood January 4, 2010
This recipe calls for a 4-5 lb. fish. So long as you have a baking tray (a rimmed cookie sheet will do) that will fit the fish, there should be no problem with its size. Once the fish is filleted it will feed 6 people. If you have a crowd, you will need to do more than one fish, which is doable so long as you have sufficient oven space. It will certainly be a party showstopper when you crack open the salt crust!
taniagoulart February 24, 2013
if i do a fish closer to 2 lbs - should I just cut the time in half?
cheese1227 January 4, 2010
I've only done this once and I suspect that the vvery large fish I had (I think it was close to 4 pounds) was simply too large for this method. If you are serving this for a crowd, is it better to do multiple fish?