There was a restaurant in Smithtown, NY - maybe still is - named Casa Rustica where I first had a whole fish cooked in a salt crust about 20 years ago. As amazingly moist and sea-tasting as the fish was, the tomato sauce accompanying it sealed the deal. Creamy and tangy, fresh and new, we assumed cream was what pulled the normal tomato, garlic, basil and olive oil combo together. No, said the waiter - Grey Poupon......this is how I re-engineered it. Feel free to leave out the fish but seriously try the fish one day with it. It is much easier than it looks from the directions..... —Canned
- Serves 4 (with leftover pasta)
- The Fish
2 to 4 pounds
whole fish, pick what looks good: sea bass, red snapper, grouper, scaled gutted, fins removed, head left on
box of Kosher salt (you won't need all of it)
lemons, 1 sliced, 1 cut in wedges
- Farfalle with Tomato Sauce
good dried farfalle (bow ties) or other similar pasta
cloves of garlic, pelled and thinly sliced
good extra virgin olive oil
chile de arbol
plum tomatoes, quartered lengthwise and slice crosswise
Grey Poupon, or more if desired
basil leaves, torn into small pieces or chiffonade
Salt and pepper, to taste - but keep in mind the fish is cooked in salt - while this does not make it salty, you really don't need to oversalt the sauce
- Preheat over to 450 degrees. Stuff the fish with the sliced lemon and parsley and push the skin together to close the gutted area.
- Place the fish in a baking pan that just fits it. I love the oval Le Creuset cast iron baking pans that you can get on e-bay for this purpose - they keep the amount of salt needed down. Cover the fish with the Kosher salt, making sure you get the salt all around the fish. If the tail is hanging out (like above), over completely with foil - but try not to do that.
- Bake the fish until an instant read thermometer reads about 135 degrees. It should be about 30 minutes for the 2 lb. fish - more like 45 minutes for a 4 lb-er. It will be hard to overcook the fish in the steam bath created by the salt but start checking at 30 minutes to be sure.
- Meanwhile, heat the olive oil, garlic and chile in a 12 inch skillet, preferably cast iron, over low heat. When the garlic begins to sizzle and turn slightly golden, add the chopped tomatoes and raise the heat to medium high. Simmer at a brisk rate for about 10 minutes while the tomatoes break down. Add the mustard, turn the heat down and simmer softly while finishing the fish and pasta
- Bring a stockpot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook according to directions. Drain, retaining a cup of pasta cooking water just in case you need it to loosen the sauce.
- When the fish has reached 135 degrees in several places, remove it from the oven. Working near the sink or garbage, crack the salt crust an remove it from the fish. An offset spatula and regular spatula are good for these jobs. Tilt the pan and brush off any remaining salt with a pastry brush.
- Using a fork, scape the skin off the top of the fish. Using the fork to remove the side bones along the op and bottom of the fish, us the offset spatula to remove the filets to a clean plate. Run the fork and spatula under cold water to remove any excess salt while working. After removing the top filets, remove the spine and discard (unless making stock). Retrieve the fish cheeks before tossing the head! You should be able to easily remove the bottom filets with the spatula to the clean plate - odds are the skin will stay in the pan but if not, it will disintegrate and is not overly salty since it was directly in contact with the pan.
- Serve the pasta and fish side by side with the sauce spooned over. Sprinkle the basil over all and serve with the lemon wedges.