Chef Sahil Arora shares an ancient baking technique
To start off, Chef Sahil Arora says it's important to pick a good quality fresh whole snapper
When you think of salt, it is either used just for taste, or as a preservative. Sahil Arora of 266 - The Wine Room and Bar, Bandra, explains, "Salt has been used for preservation since ancient times as it sucks the moisture out, hence stopping bacterial growth." At Arora's wine room though, he has sourced a recipe that dates back to up to 4th century BC where he uses a salt as a key ingredient in baking a Salt Crusted Snapper.
To start off, Arora says it's important to pick a good quality fresh whole snapper. Cleaning the fish will include gutting of the fish (removing the intestine and other organs). One can leave scales on as the skin has to be discarded after baking. He adds, "One can replace whole fish with fillets, but the cooking time will change. You can also use any other kind of fish or root vegetables, chicken, beef and pork, as per your choice."
While you are cleaning the fish, pre-heat the oven at 200 degrees. Pat-dry the fish and stuff the cavity with sliced lemon, orange, parsley and thyme. He adds, "Lemon and orange are important for flavour, but it also helps in breaking down of the meat, reducing the fishy flavour." After that, brush the snapper skin with oil and leave the stuffed snapper aside.
To start the process of salt roasting, mix salt and egg white to the consistency of wet sand, in a bowl. Add some water if required. Make a bed of salt on a baking tray and gently place the fish on top. Now top that with the salt mixture in order to create a seal out of it. Arora says it's best to use kosher salt for the process but you can replace it with sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. Finally, bake this sealed fish for 30 minutes.
Chef Sahil Arora says roasting the fish helps preserve the flavours. Pics/Ashish Raje
"Roasting fish with this technique," says Arora, "preserves a lot of its flavours, as the crust creates an insulation maintaining an even temperature, locking all the moisture in the meat. Technically speaking the crust creates an insulated oven for the fish with zero contact of air. Using salt for preserving is one of the most commonly used ancient ways of preserving food." Where this method originated, is traced back to Greece and even China.
Arora adds, "Fish can stay in contact with salt for only a couple of hours before baking, if stored in the refrigerator. Before serving the fish, always remove the skin to get rid of the extra salty flavour."
Once done baking, break the salt crush, remove the skin. It's now ready to serve. The baked fish can be served with baked potato, sautéed vegetables, a citrusy salad, or even with a basic sauce like lemon butter. But Arora likes it with sautéed cherry tomato, garlic, basil and parsley. If you have any left overs, you can de-bone the meat and save it in the refrigerator to use in salads and sandwiches the next day.
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