Baking a whole fish in a dome of salt is like cooking in an oven within an oven. The salt seals in the moisture, resulting in a perfectly tender fish that retains every ounce of its natural aroma and succulent flavors in fish recipes. The crust of salt hardens into a shell when cooked and breaks away when cut leaving just a hint of saltiness in the flesh of the fish, bringing to mind the flavor of the sea.
In this intoxicating healthy dinner recipe, the Royal Sea Bream (also known as Gilthead Royale) is covered and baked in kosher salt mixed with three kinds of pepper: pink pepper, black pepper, white pepper, and the famous szechuan pepper (also spelled sichuan, szechwan, sechuan, and sometimes called thorny ash). Native to the Szechwan province of China, szechuan pepper is not actually a pepper but a red-brown berry that grows from the prickly ash tree. It is known for its numbing spiciness and fragrant aroma that has been compared to lavender cooking recipes. Hints of cedar and pine and a touch of citrus sweetness give it an intoxicating quality.
Ingredients: 1 sea bream, about 1 ¾ lbs. 6 1/2 lbs. rough salt, 1 pint egg whites, 1.8 oz. rose pepper, 2 oz. black pepper, 2 oz. white pepper, 2 oz. Sichuan pepper (sometimes spelled “Szechuan”), cream, 1 thyme branch, 1 rosemary branch, 2 fennel branches, dried, 1 bunch of parsley
After the fish has been cleaned and gutted, stuff it with the herbs: thyme, rosemary, fennel and parsley. Mix the salt and peppers with the egg whites. Make a base of salt on baking pan lined with baking sheet. Place the fish upright so that both sides of the filets will get evenly cooked. Cover the entire fish with salt, taking care that it stands upright with the salt bed as support. Bake for 25 minutes in a 480 degree F oven. Remove from oven and allow t rest for 5 minutes before breaking the salt crust and placing the sea bream on a serving plate. Pour Sichuan pepper sauce (a mixture of cream and pepper grains) over the bream. Garnish with some parsley.
The electric taste of szechuan is all the more intensified with the addition of black, white and pink peppers, all of which have their own distinct taste and aroma that when combined together completes a wide spectrum of spiciness. The result is sensational feeling all around the mouth and olfactory system. Gently roast the szechuan peppers and crush them with a mortar and pestle to release their aromatics. In lieu of kosher salt, you can also use rock or sea salt. One of the best things about this dish is the dramatic presentation it allows. When you present the salt-covered fish in the dining table and break away its crust, the perfectly cooked fish emerges giving guests a wonderful surprise.