Salt Baked Fish with Fennel Escarole Salad + Caper Vinaigrette

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The plan to make Salt Baked Fish last weekend started with a craving for capers.  Caper butter actually, which there is none of in this meal...  but it will be making an appearance soon alongside some fresh vegetables from the garden.  Robert did sneak capers into the vinaigrette dressing though. The Fennel Escarole Salad is simple to make and adds a layer of flavor to the baked fish.  It was really nice having fish this way. There's a romance to seeing the whole thing, head and all, ready to dive into once the salt is cracked.  

I have always loved seafood, in all shapes and forms. But the first time I went to the Outer Banks with Robert's family I got sick from some bad shell fish.  It was a sad day for me, as I haven't really been able to eat them since.  Every time Robert orders mussels or clams, I try my best to make it work but I can't quite handle it just yet.  There's a Belgian beer bar that we go to that has incredible mussels and frites.  I just stare longingly at the metal bucket, wondering if maybe this time they'll taste okay- but alas. They haven't yet. It's a frustrating hang-up, and most likely entirely psychological but it makes me enjoy this kind of fish even more.  If I can't have the ones in the shell I will happily eat all of the others.    

Salt Baked Fish with Fennel Escarole Salad + Caper Vinaigrette

Fish
1 whole branzino, gutted
2 sprigs rosemary
1 lemon, sliced
2lbs kosher salt
4 egg whites

Salad
1 head of escarole, torn into pieces
1 small fennel, stalks and fronds set aside, bulb sliced thinly (preferably on mandoline)

Dressing
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
2 tbs chopped capers with their liquid
2 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1.5 tbs champagne vinegar
1/4 tsp cracked white pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Fish
Preheat oven to 400°. In a large bowl, whisk together egg whites and salt to form a coarse pasted. On a parchment lined baking sheet, spread half of salt mixture wide enough to sit fish on top. Lay fish on salt, stuff with 2 sprigs of rosemary, and lemon slices. Season the cavity of the fish generously with salt and pepper. Pack remaining salt over top of fish, making sure that it is sealed all the way around. Back fish until salt begins to brown, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes

To serve, crack open salt crust, remove and fillet fish. Serve over top of salad

Dressing
Combine all ingredients in nonreactive bowl, whisking to combine. Salt and pepper to taste.

Salad
Remove stalks and fronds from fennel bulb, discard stalks and set fronds aside. Working from the bottom, slice the bulb very thinly using a mandoline or very sharp knife. In a bowl, toss to combine fennel slices, torn escarole pieces, and chopped fennel fronds. Before serving, toss with champagne caper vinaigrette.


download printable recipe here