Ball Dont Lie Food Don't Lie

Red Snapper in a Salt Crust and Corn Fritters

What's better than an oven? An oven inside an oven.

Red Snapper in a Salt Crust and Corn Fritters
  • Recipe (fritters): I have no idea what I read specifically, but I googled recipes and adapted them for convenience.
  • Recipe (fish): Tom Colicchio on salt-roasting

I’m having a lot of trouble finding the recipes I used, which isn’t that unexpected because I tend not to rely on a single recipe unless I’m cooking something unfamiliar (see: Chashu Pork Belly) or the exact measurements are important (see: bread). For these two meals I did what I typically do: google a bunch of recipes, cross-reference the ingredients/steps with what I’m willing to purchase/deal with and go from there.

Corn Fritters

Corn fritters remind me of Korean pancakes, which I have fond memories of my mom making me on her days off when I was in grade school. “Pancakes” is kind of a misnomer here, especially if your mental model is the buttermilk variety of IHOP fame. Think more of a savory, miniature omelette/pancake hybrid filled with meat or vegetables.

These are super easy and I had all the ingredients (other than veg) already in my pantry/fridge. I cut the kernels off of two cobs of sweet corn and mixed them with 3 tbsp flour, some cayenne pepper, diced scallions and an egg. Then I fried little patties in some grapeseed oil, which works well for all cooking needs because it has a high smoke point and a neutral flavor.

A lot of recipes call for deep frying but frankly I need less deep fried foods in my life. I’m also less interested in tasting a thick batter than I am the flavor of corn.

Cutting corn kernels off of a cob is annoying/unruly if you try to stand the cob vertically. You can employ some cute tricks with a bundt pan or an inverted dish inside a larger bowl, or you can just turn the cob on its side.

Scallions are the most underrated version of onion. I like tossing diced scallion into a salad to give it an onion-kick without being overpowering.

Let it sit for ~10 minutes to let the flour incorporate. It shouldn’t be goopy or cakey but there should definitely be a batter forming. It surprisingly doesn’t take much flour at all.

Fry on medium-high heat with a little bit of oil. Let a crust develop before you attempt to flip or everything will fall apart. Flipping foods in a pan successfully is 95% mental. Flip with authority (within reason).

Post-authoritative flip, and soaking up residual grease on paper towels.

Served with a dollop of greek yogurt, which I often substitute for sour cream.

These were simple and tasty, and I think incorporating other things into the batter (see: jalapeno bits, bacon) would take these to another level. If you have a griddle you could probably bang these out en masse for a dinner party.

Red Snapper in a Salt Crust

I keep a list of things I want to cook on my iPhone and “salt encrusted fish” has been on the list for months. I don’t remember where I first saw the technique – maybe Gordon Ramsay? – but there’s also an episode of Chef’s Table where a chef in Patagonia covers a fresh caught fish in clay to cook it. Even clambakes, where seafood is cooked on a beach between steaming seaweed on top of fire-heated rocks and a layer of wet burlap, are thematically similar. Construct some sort of encasing in which to cook your entree and let the resulting oven-effect do its thing.

There’s something magical about cooking food in a crust that you break before serving. You can’t see the food as it cooks so you don’t know what to expect and breaking the crust always makes for a killer presentation.

The obvious question is: wouldn’t the salt make the fish taste incredibly salty? Turns out the answer is not really. As long as you sufficiently remove the thin layer of skin and serve only the meat, you’re left with a super moist, very well infused filet of fish. The salt is a means to an end (even and moist cooking) rather than an end in itself (saltiness).

Fish, kosher salt, lemon slices, parsley, bay leaves. Insert aromatics of choice. You’ll need a sizeable bowl to mix the salt.

For a ~1.5 pound red snapper I ended up using roughly 4-5 cups of kosher salt. Break 1 egg white per every 2 cups.

To form the salt crust the salt itself needs to become the consistency of slushy snow; it needs to be compactable. Some recipes say its enough to use water but others say combining egg whites leads to a more solid crust. I used both.

Mix and add water/salt as necessary. It’ll get clumpier.

Ask your fish monger to clean/scale the fish and remove the gills. This also works well with branzino, but red snapper is just so pretty.

Salt and pepper the cavity and stuff it with aromatics, in this case lemon, bay leaf and parsley. I was surprised by how well the aromatics permeated the entire fish despite being concentrated towards the front.

Form a base of salt to place the fish on.

Start covering the fish. The added benefit of a red snapper is that you can easily see where you’ve missed spots because the skin will shine through.

I don’t know if there’s a trick to this other than “completely cover the fish.” Some videos say you can skip the tail and head but others say that compromises the oven effect. I say cover the entire thing because salt is cheap. There’s roughly a uniform 0.25-0.5 inch layer of salt across the entire fish at this point.

Bake at 400 for 25-30 minutes. Apparently an instant-read thermometer is supposed to register ~135 but I blew way past that. It’s also hard to use an instant read thermometer when cooking with a crust. I pulled it at 25min and it was perfect.

The egg white helps the crust harden and brown in spots.

You can crack and lift off sections of the salt crust with a spoon. It should definitely be a crust. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the crust doesn’t stick to the fish – possibly due to the fish’s moisture content.

All the crust is broken off at this point, and you can use a silicone brush/paper towel/your fingers to dust off as much salt as you can. Although I found an easier solution was to use a spoon and peel back the skin entirely.

Don’t bother using a knife of any kind at this point; the meat is so moist that you can filet the fish with the gentle nudges of a spoon. After removing the top filet the backbone should lift out, leaving you with another clean filet underneath.

All in all I’d say this was a positive experience, and I’d consider doing it again for a holiday or guests or some other notable event where presentation made a difference. For cooking an everyday fish dinner I’m a bigger fan of fish en papillote (in paper) which is a lot easier to deal with, somewhat thematically similar (cooking inside of something) and has a very easy clean up.