fish in salt

Red Snapper in Salt

I bake an entire red snapper in a salt crust dome. Not only is it really fun but the end result is delicious.


Red Snapper in Salt

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It’s a rare week here at Macheesmo when I post a poll and the thing that I actually want to win is the one that wins. But that’s exactly what happened in last week’s poll.

The poll winner, a fish baked in salt, left me standing in my kitchen last Sunday night, giggling like a school boy, as I played with a very good looking 3 pound red snapper and six pounds of Kosher salt.

It was an awesome and fun cooking experience.

If you can’t tell, underneath all of that salt there, is one whole fish.

At first I was very excited to make this meal, then I was slightly nervous, then scared, and finally excited again. What’s funny about this dish is while it looks intense, it’s actually one of the simpler ways to cook fish because it basically ensures a tender result unless you forgot about your fish in the oven and went to the movies or something.

fish in salt

Red Snapper in Salt

I bake an entire red snapper in a salt crust dome. Not only is it really fun but the end result is delicious.
3.95 from 19 votes
Prep Time 25 mins
Cook Time 30 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Main Dishes
Cuisine European
Servings 4 Servings


  • 1 whole fish red snapper or bass work great, fins and gills removed, 3-5 pounds
  • 2 3 pound boxes of Kosher salt
  • 4 egg whites
  • ½ Cup water
  • ¼ fennel bulb sliced thin (use the rest for a salad)
  • 1 lemon sliced thin
  • ½ orange sliced thin (use the rest for a salad plus maybe one full orange)
  • A few sprigs of thyme
  • A handful of parsley
  • Olive oil for drizzling


  • Pat your whole fish dry and stuff it with thinly sliced lemons, fennel, and orange slices. Also add a few sprigs of thyme and parsley.
  • Mix salt, egg whites, and water in a large bowl to form a rough paste.
  • On a large baking dish, completely pack the fish in the salt mixture. Use parchment paper to make for easy clean-up. Add about 1/3 of the salt mixture on the bottom of the dish and sit the fish right on top. Then completely surround the fish with the salt but don’t pack it super-tight or you’ll damage the fish. Be gentle.
  • Bake the fish at 450 degrees for 25-35 minutes for a 3 pound snapper. If you have a digital thermometer you’re shooting for an internal temperature of 130 degrees.
  • Let the fish rest for 5 minutes when it comes out of the oven.
  • Use a mallet to lightly crack open the salt casing and break it all away. Then use a sharp knife to cut away the top skin layer. Then just gently lift the fish out with a spatula. It’ll be too tender to lift it all out in one piece so just take it in pieces. Lift out the fish skeleton and then also lift out the bottom segments of fish meat.
  • Serve immediately!


Adapted from an Alton Brown recipe.


Serving: 1pieceCalories: 253kcalCarbohydrates: 6gProtein: 49gFat: 4gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 113mgSodium: 176mgPotassium: 861mgFiber: 2gSugar: 3gVitamin A: 62IUVitamin C: 25mgCalcium: 50mgIron: 2mg
Keyword Baked Fish, Cooking in Salt

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Preparing the fish

There’s only a few important things to remember about the fish in this dish. As always, get the fish as fresh as you can. I got this red snapper from my local fish market and they even cleaned it to my specs which was lovely of them.

There’s really no way you could do this with anything less than a whole fish (although you can use two smaller fish). Without a whole fish though, the meat would get too salty. Have your fishmonger (or do it yourself if you are privvy) remove the gills and fins on your fish. Leave the skin and scales on. That’s right, you don’t even need to worry about the scales. If your fish already happens to be de-scaled that’s just fine though.

The only chance we’re really going to have to flavor this fish is right at the beginning so let’s stuff it with lots of citrus and herbs right away. These for example:

Lots of flavor here…

Slice up everything pretty thin so it’ll fit nicely in the fish cavity.

slicing the fillings
Go thin on the slices.

Once you have your fish, rinse it with cold water and pat it dry with a paper towel. Then stuff it full of the herbs and fruits.

fish stuffed
Stuffed full!

Playing with salt

When your fish is ready, you need to make the salt mortar. I’m not really sure if that’s the right word for what this is, but basically it’s a mortar like you would use for laying brick I imagine.

Whatever you want to call it, it’s really fun to make.

This made me giggle.

To make the mortar, just mix the salt, egg whites, and water in a large bowl. It should be slightly moist and clump together if you press it.

Next, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and then scoop about 1/3 of your salt mortar onto the parchment paper diagonally. Make sure that there aren’t any whole or gaps in the salt crust! Then lay your stuffed fish right on top of the salt. It’s okay if the head and tale stick out a bit.

Salt Dome Building
This is fun cooking.

Next, start packing the fish in salt! You want to form a dome shape around the fish. Try not to press really hard or you might damage the fish. Just gentle shape the salt. Try not to get in a hurry. It’s kind of fun!

dome finished
I used all the salt.

Make sure your oven is preheated at 450 degrees and then bake this very heavy thing for 25-35 minutes depending on the size of the fish. For a 3 pound fish, mine was actually a bit overcooked after 30 minutes (although it’s fine to overcook this fish a bit. It’s still very moist).

If you have a meat thermometer you can poke it through the salt crust after 25 minutes or so and get the temperature of the fish. 130 degrees or above and you’re all set. Be sure to let your salt dome rest at room temp for 5 minutes before cracking into it.

The Fun Part

Getting the fish out of the dome was actually very easy. Use a small hammer or mallet to lightly crack the salt shell all the way around the fish. It should lift right off. Use a small pastry brush or something to dust off any salt that’s stuck to the fish.

So cool.

Next, use a sharp knife to gently slice all the way around the top layer of skin and then just peel it back. It should come off really easily in one piece. It’s pretty amazing actually.

After the skin is off, use a knife or small spatula (or pie server) to gently lift the pieces of fish from the top side of the fish. That should expose the spine and bones which you should be able to grab by the tale and gently pull off.

Pretty cool.

fish bones
Tipsy was not impressed.

Then you’ll have the same amount of fish underneath the spine which you can scoop off the bottom layer of skin.

If any of that was terribly confusing to you, Alton has a video of the whole thing. If you want to skip to the end part of getting the fish out of the salt, it starts around 7:30 in that video.

If you wanted to be really crazy, I guess you could just serve the fish intact at the table, but I thought it was nice to pull off all of the fish fillets and serve them with some lemon slices.

This is a lot more food than it looks.

fish filets
It’s actually a lot of fish.

I served my red snapper with some brown rice and a quick salad using the fennel and orange I had left over from the stuffing.

finished meal
Healthy dinner!

Not only was this meal very delicious, I think it would’ve been pretty hard to mess up. Like I said, I actually overcooked my fish by about 10 degrees and you would’ve never known. The salt keeps all the moisture and flavor trapped in so it gives you tons of room for error in the cooking.

So if you’re in the market for something different and fun, I thought this was a fantastic dish!

Have you ever tried this? How’d it go? Cooked anything else in salt?

21 Responses to “Red Snapper in Salt” Leave a comment

  1. Aaaah that is the coolest thing ever. Rivka at Not Derby Pie did a fish baked in salt a few weeks ago, and now you, and now I most definitely want to try it. Do you think a 3 pound fish would serve four people? It seems like an impressive sort of thing you could serve to guests, if your guests were adventurous eaters and not put off by spines.

    1. No doubt it would feed four. My fish was exactly three pounds and Betsy and I got two full meals out of it with some leftovers still.

  2. I don't like cleaning/scaling fishes, even after I've cooked them. The recipe sounds awesome, perhaps I should pass it off to my husband who wouldn't mind the icky fish scales :)

  3. so glad you did this, i've wanted to but wanted someone else to do it first. i told you it wouldn't fail–you're a sharp cookie you know.

    i would love to know what you spend per week on groceries? do you spend as much as i? LOL

    1. Probably more… haha

      I think I spend between 125-175/week depending on the week and that includes some beer and wine and lunches for the whole week. I don't eat much meat these days though or that would probably be higher, but I do love good food so I'm happy to spend money to get the good stuff in most cases as I'm sure you all know ;)

  4. I had this on my first trip to Spain many years ago and was so surprised it was not salty. I've also seen it done with a pork roast…though I've yet to try either in my own kitchen.

  5. I tried this yesterday. Baked a nice 3lb snapper at 450F for 35 min. It looked gorgeous but when I broke the salt dome it just crumbled. The small bits of salt made the fish too salty. What did I do wrong? The fish was nicely steamed not dry or raw.

    1. Hey Carl! Did you use kosher salt? Maybe you needed an extra egg or two to get the salt to really hold it’s shape? Thats the only thing I can think of that would cause it to crumble and not stay in one big piece…

  6. Hi Nick,
    two things: I love salt baked fish. I often had dorada and lubina “a la sal” in Spain. I didn’t know that it’s so easy to prepare. I will definitely *try this at home*.
    Also: I really like your photos. Great shots!

  7. Beautiful breaking down of a technique that seems so complex to most people. Well done, and thank you.

    1. Hey Tommie, I’m not sure I would honestly. The fish would start to cure if it was in contact with the salt for too long. Good luck!

  8. We made this dish tonight with about a 2 pound American red snapper. We cooked it for 27 mins and it was just slightly undercooked so we lifted it out and cooked it for just a few minutes more. Otherwise it was a great recipe and surprisingly easy. We’ve wanted to try a salt fish since having it in Madrid several years ago. Thanks for the encouraging recipe!

  9. We had salt baked fish in Spain a few years ago and loved it! I have been making salt baked fish at home now about once a month. It is my husbands favorite way to eat fish

  10. I have done this many times, using usually snapper and agree that it is really easy, tasty, and almost foolproof. I use an in dwelling thermometer in the thickest part of the fish to avoid piercing the salt crust, and to avoid guessing about cooking time. I like the “Dot” thermometer from Thermoworks.
    I have done chicken and pork this way as well, but both seemed a bit salty to me if done exactly the same way, and the benefit as opposed to cooking in a tagine or Romertopf was not so apparent. In addition, you don’t get the fixings for a useful sauce. If I am doing something other than fish,and using this method, I cover it with parchment paper, and cook at 425 max.

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