HOW TO COOK SALT WRAPPED OVEN-BAKED FISH WHOLE
HEY LOVELY! It's not often I'll post a recipe because Paul and I use delivered meal kits 5 nights a week (which is a blessing) and we usually go out over the weekend but this was a little dream come true for me and I love sharing those.
I have lost count of how many times I have imagined serving up a whole baked red fish as part of a Christmas dinner. I finally took the plunge by testing this Italian inspired, salt wrapped cooking method which I discovered on the inter webs. The recipe involves layering a salted meringue mixture over a whole fish to seal and baking in the moisture.
You can delight your guests with a big reveal by cracking open the salt shell in front of them and serving to a few oohs and ahhs (even if they are only your own).
My first practice run was a bit of a laugh when I forgot one of the main ingredients for the salt meringue (even though there are only two ingredients!) and with the help of guests, started the wrapping process over. We may have played a little bit of paddy cake too.
Despite the hiccups of the morning I was quietly excited and nervous when it came to reveal time. I cracked open the hard salt meringue shell like they apparently do in the restaurants. You can imagine my relief after a quick peek and taste that the fish was cooked through peeerrrrfectly. Yay!
I am yet to be a connoisseur of fish but I was pleasantly surprised with the sweet mild flavour that had an after taste similar to our Blue Manna crab. (My fave!)
I’m still to discover the best way to serve this dish as it doesn’t look that appetizing once you start to share it out onto the dinner plates. My mum and I were contemplating whether this would be a self-serve dish which I couldn’t imagine being done easily, especially when seated at a table.
Perhaps everyone simply accepts that the whole fish isn’t as pretty as fillets. (If you have any great tips for serving fish easily leave a comment below.)
About The Nannygai (also known as Bight Redfish)
This Australian deep sea ocean fish is likened to our pink snapper or red emperor except the nannygai is really moist, especially when salt wrapped and oven baked. The slightly lower price per kilo only reflects that it is lesser known but certainly does not reflect a lesser quality.
The Nannygai appeals to me because it swims deeper than the snapper and emperor which for some reason means to me that it is a cleaner fish however, as I soon discovered, the Nannygai does have a small chest cavity so it can’t be filled with lots of herbs and flavourings but the great thing is this fish doesn’t really need it.
Nannygai is also recommended as a great fish for sashimi.
Colour, Texture and Taste
The beautiful red, pink and white coloured fish with its pearlescent scales makes for great presentation, especially reminiscent of Christmas time. Combine that with the white, firm fleshy flakes similar to the texture of blue manna swimmer crabs and the mild sweet fish taste with the large, easy to remove bones and we have ourselves a winner. (The flesh tasted even more like crab once it was chilled.)
How To Choose The Freshest Fish
I popped this in a separate blog post which you can read here.
1 x Whole Nannygai (weight based on portion size suggestions found here) – I chose this fish but you can use the salt wrap method on any whole fish you like. Save yourself a tonne of time by asking your fish monger to clean it for you.
Spray cooking oil (Canola or olive oil is fine)
Filling- You can use whatever your taste buds prefer but I used the following which gave a hint of citrus flavouring
1/2 x Orange sliced
1/2 x Lemon sliced
1/2 x Lime sliced
Sprigs of Lemon Thyme
Salt Wrap Mixture
4 x Egg whites
1 kg x Cooking salt (Also known as Kosher salt – Do not use table salt as it is too fine and will become too heavy for the light meringue foam you are making)
Nannygai can be cooked in an oven or in a hooded barbecue (BBQ version added to my cooking bucket list)
1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 355°F (Fan Forced) or 200°C / 390°F (Fan Forced) and line a baking tray with baking paper.
2. Lightly rinse off your whole fish, pat dry with paper towel and lay out directly on the baking paper.
3. Insert the filling into the cavity but bear in mind that the Nannygai has a small chest cavity so you may need to cut some of the fruit slices in half, first layering the orange, then lemon and finally the lime slices topped with the sprigs of lemon thyme.
4. Press the cavity closed and spray the top of the exposed skin with a light layer of cooking oil so that the salt case will dust off easier.
5. Double check that the stomach is as closed as possible and start layering the salt meringue mixture over the fish. You can cover the whole fish or opt to exclude the head and tail. (Next time I will cover the head to create a bigger surprise for my guests and hopefully not to get that gross ovened eyeball staring out at me.)
6. Place in the middle of the oven and cook per time suggestions found here. My Nannygai was 1.32 kgs with 45 minutes baking time.
7. Remove the fish from the oven. Let it sit for a 3 minutes before using the baking paper to lift the fish across to the serving plate ready to crack open and present to your guests. (This is a lot easier to do with two people working together by lifting each end of the baking paper onto the serving plate.)
8. The next part was a little messier than I liked as it was my first time serving a whole fish. Ideally you will crack open the salt shell in front of your guests! The Nannygai has a very thin skin that doesn’t peel away from the meat easily so I decided to cut the flesh from behind the base of the head, down along the middle of the spine and across the base of the tail with my metal spatula to create fillets that I then served skin side facing down.
My Serving Suggestions
Fresh, Natural Oysters With Australian Finger Limes and Green Tobasco sauce (yum). Seafresh Innaloo has always had the best. Otherwise Woolworths are okay.
Steamed, buttered baby potatoes
Asparagus wrapped in prosciutto
Light green salad
Citrus wedges of lime, lemon or orange
Fresh lime juice
Serve with a chilled sweet white wine like Gossip Lips
Lime Baked Cheesecake (Key Lime Pie)
Question - Which recipe is on your bucket list?