Baking fish in a salt crust is a spectacle best performed in front of a crowd. Cracking the salt dome, releasing a deliciously fragrant puff of steam, is a little bit of food magic. Had I caught a big sheepshead or a couple Spanish mackerel, we might have been able to share this recipe with a larger group. As luck would have it, on my morning of fishing off the Folly Beach Pier here in Charleston all I came up with was a small whiting. Generous fishing buddies gave me their catch (another small whiting) and we were in business.
Some recipes merely form the salt crust with a paste of salt and water, but according the the Lee brothers and their Charleston Kitchen Cookbook, the best crust is made with a paste of salt and beaten egg whites. At a ratio of about one egg white to one cup of salt, the consistency becomes that of wet sand, allowing you to easily mound and sculpt the crust over the fish. As the crust browns, baking the egg whites, your kitchen will take on an aroma of breakfast rather than a seafood restaurant.
The bottom line is that this recipe will yield tender, delicious fish, but it does use a ton of salt. I hesitate to say that it’s a waste of salt, since the fish was so good, but I certainly wouldn’t prepare fish this way too often.
You don’t want your friends to get used to the spectacle, anyway.