A salt baked fish is an easy recipe for entertaining. It can be made with almost any combination of aromatic herbs and citrus, and the fish cooks perfectly every time in about 30 minutes.
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This is one of those recipes that, when I first made it, I wanted to do it so I could say I did it. Make a salt baked fish? Who does that? Me. It seemed very aspirational. Very impressive. Very chef-y.
Well, maybe it is, but it's also very simple. (I know I say that all the time, about lots of food things, but it's really true. About lots of food things.)
And guess what? It cooks so FAST! There's nothing better than getting dinner on the table in under 30 minutes. Especially when it looks so fancy!
- What is salt baked fish?
- Why would you bake a fish in salt?
- Salt baked fish is fancy, flavorful and easy to make!
- Ingredients you'll need
- Does salt baked fish taste salty?
- Recommended tools and equipment
- Video: Watch me make it!
- How to make a salt baked fish in 3 easy steps!
- How to you know if a salt baked fish is done?
- Tips for the best salt baked fish
- What to serve with it
- More seafood recipes
What is salt baked fish?
Salt baked fish is exactly what it sounds like. You take a whole fish, season it, then cover it in a salt crust made with egg whites and bake it in the oven. It's an ancient cooking method thought to have originated in Sicily.
Why would you bake a fish in salt?
The salt crust helps the fish cook evenly and gently. It also keeps the fish moist, seasons it perfectly, and locks in the flavors of the aromatics. There's no need for any added oil, so it's a lighter way to prepare it.
Salt baked fish is fancy, flavorful and easy to make!
- Salt baked fish makes for dramatic presentation at the table. Perfect for dinner parties and holidays.
- Baking the fish in salt ensures that it cooks perfectly and is seasoned properly. It's NOT salty!
- You can add any citrus, herbs, even chile peppers that you like to create your own flavors.
- Just fill with your choice of seasonings, spread the salt crust on top of the fish and bake.
- You can use a variety of types of fish.
- Cooks quickly, about 8 minutes per pound.
Ingredients you'll need
- One whole fish: Choose a 2-3 pound fish like red snapper, branzino or striped bass.
- Kosher salt: Use your favorite kosher salt, be it Morton or Diamond.
- Egg whites: The egg whites will serve as the glue that holds the salt crust together as the fish bakes.
- Citrus and herbs: You can use any combination of fresh herbs and citrus. Lemon and dill; cilantro and lime; lemon, oregano and sage. Let the season and your tastes guide you. You can even add fresh chiles for a little spice!
Does salt baked fish taste salty?
Despite what you may think, baking a fish in salt ensures that it will be perfectly seasoned, NOT salty. Only the salt closest to skin of the fish seasons it, the rest of the salt solidifies to form the crust that locks in the moisture.
Recommended tools and equipment
- Large mixing bowl: To mix up the ingredients for the salt crust.
- Sheet pan: Choose a sturdy one that won't warp! Warping would cause the salt crust to break!
- Meat thermometer: To accurately determine when the fish is done cooking.
Video: Watch me make it!
How to make a salt baked fish in 3 easy steps!
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. (If your fish monger didn't do so, you'll need to cut off the fins.)
Step 1: Stuff the fish with herbs, citrus and other aromatics
Stuff the cavity of the fish with the herbs (stems and all) and sliced citrus.
Step 2: Make the salt crust
Mix salt and egg whites in a large bowl until the mixture becomes the consistency of wet sand.
Step 3: Cover the fish with the salt crust and bake!
Put a layer of the salt mixture onto a sheet pan. and place the stuffed fish on top.
Smear the rest of the salt mixture over the body of the fish - you can leave the head and tail exposed.
The salt crust doesn't need to be too thick, just enough so that it forms a coating that isn't see through or cracking.
Place the fish in the oven and bake about 8 minutes per pound until the flesh is 120 to 125 degrees. Check the temperature with a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the fish.
This two pound fish took a little longer than that - I checked after 16 minutes, then gave it another 5 and checked again. It took a little over 20 minutes in all.
Gently rack open the salt crust - I used a rolling pin. Remember you are just trying to loosen the crust, you don't want to smoosh the fish inside!
To serve, remove crust and peel back the skin of the fish. Lift out the flesh, then carefully remove the backbone, and lift the remaining flesh.
How to you know if a salt baked fish is done?
Insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the fish. Once the internal temperature reaches 125 degrees F, the fish is ready.
Tips for the best salt baked fish
- Don't get a really big fish. 2-3 pounds is the ideal size. This is not the time for a 6-7 pound monster.
- The salt crust only needs to be thick enough to coat the outside of the fish without it being see-through or cracked. No need to go overboard.
- To crack open the salt crust once baked, use a rolling pin or crab mallet, or something similar. Just don't smack it too hard! You don't want to ruin your dinner. Tap on it until the crust breaks and is easily removed.
- When serving, be sure to check for small bones. And don't forget the meat up around the collar of the fish - that's good eatin'! Don't leave it behind.
Salt baked fish works well with a wide variety of fish. Try whole red snapper, whole branzino, whole sea bass, or whole striped bass. Try to look for sustainable seafood.
You can use any herbs, citrus, chiles etc., that you like, depending on your taste and your plans for serving. Try lemon and dill, lime and cilantro, a mixture of all those, the possibilities are endless!
It depends on how big your fish is. You'll need 1 to 2 three-pound boxes of salt for a two pound fish. I recommend having 2 boxes on hand. Get more than you think you'll need. Just get it. You'll use it. It's salt.
Use two egg whites per cup of kosher salt.
Cook the fish about 8 minutes per pound. You may need a few extra minutes depending on how thick you made the salt crust. But in general, a two pound fish only takes about 16-20 minutes!
What to serve with it
You can make a salt baked fish at any time of year, and it pairs well with a variety of side dishes. Choose what's in season!
- Mango Avocado Salsa would be great in the spring and summer, with tacos or just as a topping.
- Charred Broccoli with Calabrian Chili Paste, Feta and Lemon Yogurt Sauce has Italian flavors that pair well with the fish.
- Strawberry Arugula Salad with Basil and Mint is light and fresh and won't compete with the delicate flavors of the fish.
- Roasted Vegetable Salad with Charred Lemon Vinaigrette the smoky flavors and fresh lemon are perfect with seafood.
- Green Bean Salad with Tomato, Feta, and Mint doesn't require any cooking so it's easy peasy.
More seafood recipes
It's surprisingly easy to make fish and seafood at home. Try these ideas.
- Baked Salmon with Radishes and Peas is light and tasty, and the epitome of Spring!
- Mussels in White Wine (Moules Marinières) is a French classic that cooks in under 10 minutes.
- Oven Roasted Salmon with Citrus Herb Salsa Verde is another easy recipe that showcases how well fresh fish pairs with citrus and herbs.
Salt Baked Fish
- 1 whole fresh fish red snapper, grouper, striped bass, etc.
- 1 handful fresh cilantro
- 1 handful fresh dill
- 2 sprigs fresh oregano
- 1 lemon sliced
- 1 lime sliced
- kosher salt about 2 boxes for a 2-3 pound fish
- egg whites 2 egg whites per cup of salt
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Remove fins from fish, or ask your fish monger to do so. They can be bony and difficult.
- Stuff the cavity of the fish with the herbs (stems and all) and sliced citrus.
- Mix salt and egg whites in a large mixing bowl until the mixture becomes the consistency of wet sand.
- Put a layer of the salt mixture onto the sheet pan. and place the stuffed fish on top.
- Smear the rest of the salt mixture over the body of the fish - you can leave the head and tail exposed. It doesn't need to be too thick, just thick enough to form a coating that isn't see-through or cracking.
- Place the fish in the oven and bake about 8-10 minutes per pound. To see if the fish is done, insert a meat thermometer into the thickest part of the flesh. When it is about 125 degrees F, it's ready.
- Gently rack open the salt crust - I used a rolling pin. Remember you are just trying to loosen the crust, you don't want to smoosh the fish inside!
- Remove crust and peel back the skin of the fish. Lift out the flesh, then carefully remove the backbone, and lift the remaining flesh.
- You can use whatever herbs you like, according to your plans for serving. Use the ones I chose, or parsley, rosemary, thyme are all also acceptable.
- You can also use whatever citrus you like/have. One kind or a few kinds.
- To see if it's done, use a meat thermometer inserted through the salt crust into the thickest part of the fish. When the temperature is about 125 degrees F, it's ready.
- Use two egg whites per cup of kosher salt. How much salt? Depends on how big your fish is. I got a couple of boxes for this small-ish two pound fish. Get more than you think you'll need. Just get it. You'll use it. It's salt.
- Be sure to read the post above for answers to all the FAQs and a few more tips!
Intending to try this recipe. But my oven is only 300 degrees highest. And how to check on the fish?
The temperature I gave is 400 degrees F.
Is your oven Celsius? If so, cook it at about 200 degrees C. You can check the fish using a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part. When the fish reaches 125 degrees F or about 52 degrees C, it is ready!
I'll update the recipe with answers to these very good questions!
Thanks for reading and let me know how the fish turns out for you,
Love the recipe for the salt baked fish, do you remove anything from the fish before you stuff the cavity?
The fish I bought was already gutted/cleaned by the fishmonger. Most supermarkets and fish markets already sell whole fish this way, so all you have to do is add your herbs and citrus. I did trim the fins from the outside of the fish, but you could probably ask a fishmonger to do this for you.
Thanks for reading!