2 medium sized sea bass – each suitable for an individual serving (any local white fleshed sweet saltwater fish will do e.g. snapper. Of course, you can use one large fish – this recipe easily adapts)
2 lemons - thickly sliced - to stuff the fish
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 kg rock salt (a 1kg box for each fish)
1 handful of mixed dry and fresh herbs (I normally use a mix of oregano, parsley, rosemary and marjoram)
The grated rind of 1 lemon
1. Preheat the oven to 200 °C (400 °F or gas mark 6)
2. Wash the gutted sea bass inside and out.
3. Season the inside of each fish with black pepper, then stuff it with thick slices of lemon and a sprig of fresh rosemary.
4. Fill a large bowl with the rock salt and add the handful of mixed herbs, including the rosemary and lemon rind. (For a firmer salt crust you can mix in a couple of egg-whites but this is optional).
5. Add just enough water to the rock salt mixture to dampen and hold the crystals together.
6. Spread a layer of the rock salt mixture onto a baking tray that is suitable for serving.
7. Place the fish on top of the base layer of salt and, using your hands, scoop the remaining salt on top of the fish, forming a tight crust, whilst leaving the heads and tails exposed. Take care not to put any of the salt mixture inside the fish. (The skin of the fish keeps the salt out of the flesh).
8. Place the fish in the preheated oven and cook for 30-40 minutes (until salt is golden).
When the fish is cooked, slide a slice of fresh lemon in its gills for presentation.
Leave the fish to rest for 10 minutes then place a large sprig of fresh rosemary on top of the salt crust (you can flambé it for maximum effect!*)
Break open the salt crust to reveal a beautifully moist, perfectly cooked fish with an incredibly fresh flavour.
* In Italy I use Grappa to flambé but you can use any spirit you have to hand
"This is always a crowd-pleaser and there can be quite a ceremony when it’s brought to the table and the crust is cracked open. This is a common way of cooking fish all along the lagoon, and is excellent with sea bass because of its moist, sweet flesh. Although this recipe requires a lot of salt, it’s really not salty – it’s just perfectly steamed, every time."