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Baked Whole Fish in a Salt Crust and a Review of "Seafood alla Siciliana"

In the beginning of the new cookbook, Seafood alla Siciliana, author Toni Lydecker quotes Goethe:  "To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything".   And you'll certainly feel this way after reading this beautiful book.  When the publisher contacted me and sent me a copy, I couldn't wait to read it - after all, this is where my mother was from.  This is not just a collection of recipes but an in depth look at Sicily itself - its history, its food, its wine, its culture.  

Lydecker is a noted food writer, specializing in Italian cooking.  When she finally goes to Sicily to learn the regional seafood cooking there, she immerses herself, learning dishes from home cooks to restaurant chefs.   She visited winemakers and toured food processing plants.  She toured the Agostino Recca anchovy plant, the makers of my beloved anchovies.  Her stories and notes about these visits are well worth reading and really add to this book.

The heart of Sicilian cooking includes a handful of ingredients - olive oil, sea salt, capers, anchovies and tomatoes.  The author explains each ingredient in depth, its history and how it is used in Sicilian cooking. Many dishes are created around these essential ingredients.  The book also includes a section about pairing Sicilian wines with seafood, which I found to be a nice touch.  

The recipes in this book will inspire you and include lots of great Sicilian dishes, like Sardines Stuffed with Breadcrumbs, Pine Nuts and Currants, Couscous with Fish, Seafood Pizzas, Classic Swordfish Rolls and a contemporary version that will knock your socks off - Pistachio-crusted Swordfish Rolls with Escarole Filling. Although everything in the book is based on seafood, there are salads, including a Baccala Salad with Blood Orange and Pomegranate Seeds and a chapter on desserts like Lemon Granita and Marsala Raisin Cake.  

There is also an invaluable chapter for any seafood lover on the proper way to buy, handle and cook each type of seafood and acceptable substitutes to use.  Her best tip - whenever possible, buy a whole fish, even if you plan to filet it later. You are more apt to get a fresher fish and the taste will be better.  

To that end, I have made her recipe for a whole fish baked in a crust of salt.  This method is common in Sicily and produces a really moist, perfectly seasoned fish. Most Americans do not cook fish whole, but if you love fish, this is a technique you should try.  Not only is it remarkably simple, it is almost foolproof, resulting in a perfectly cooked fish with little effort.

The recipe below calls for a small whole fish, about 1.5 pounds.  I used a very large fish, a 5 pound red snapper. I simply tripled the amount of salt and doubled the cooking time.

Whole Fish Baked in a Salt Crust

for a printable version, click here


  • Lemon slices
  • Several sprigs of flat leaf parsley
  • 1 sea bass or other suitable whole fish, about 1.5 pounds, cleaned and scaled
  • 4 cups sea salt or kosher salt
  • 3 egg whites
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Lemon wedges  


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Tuck the lemon slices and parsley sprigs into the cavity of the fish.  

Combine the salt, egg whites, and 1/4 cup water in a bowl, mixing well until the salt has the consistency of damp sand.  (If the mixture feels too wet, add more salt; if too dry, stir in a bit more water).

Line a large rimmed baking sheet (or any other baking dish) with foil or parchment paper.  Using half of the damp salt, form a bed for the fish.  Place the fish on top, and pack the remaining salt over it to form a covering.

Bake the fish to an internal temperature of 135 - 140 degrees, about 25 minutes.  (You can just poke an instant read thermometer right through the salt, into the fish).  Remove from the oven and let stand for 10 minutes.

With the back of a wooden spoon, crack and remove the hard, pale brown crust of salt.  Remove the skin and fillet the fish.  Serve with your best olive oil and lemon wedges.

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Reader Comments (26)

I have been following your blog for a year now and must say it just keeps getting better and better. Although I would never attempt to make whole fish in salt, it looked wonderful--your photography was exceptional, especially the final shot. Your skills definitely extend beyond the kitchen!

December 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJudy F.

Simply elegant and beautiful! I love these photo so very much.

December 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKatie K

What a sensational photo... the fish was jumping out at me to be tasted! Great job, glad I found your blog!

I did think your fish dish was amazing. I love Sicily. Hope this works.

December 6, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAngela@Spinachtiger

I sqo love your fish dish & your pictures are fabulous!!
You have a COOL foodblog!

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSophie

MMMMMMMM,....your fish dish sounds so great!

Beautiful pictures too!

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSophie

This looks great Elaine. I bet Brian loved it (not!)

December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

My uncle owns a restaurant in Sicily - he makes this dish for special occasions. The last time I was there, he made this for a family wedding. It's absolutely spectacular in person - he lit the salt on fire for the presentation, before cracking the salt crust to reveal the succulent fish. Yum!

December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

First of all I totally agree with commenter #1, your photos and everything else is awesome! That fish looks stunning. I"ve always wondered how that tasted. I happen to have that book too, when I get adventurous I will give it a try!

December 12, 2009 | Unregistered Commentermarie

I have made your salt coted fish recipe tonight for 5 quest.It was very succesfull.Thank you.Everybody enjoyed it! So, let me people know my experience in case they may read : I used 2 big seabus for this recipe and douple of salt ingredience. it was my first time that i cooked fish in the salt so, i was little concern either it would cook in 25 mins. Thats way i keep it 15 mins. more, at total i cooked 35 min. The result was > Delicious!

December 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commentersiir

Wonderful recipe and fantastic photos!

December 14, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjoe@italyville

I dig your blog and haven't even explored it much yet. I was looking for a photo of this dish specifically. Great photos. I read nothing but great reviews about this dish but, have yet to try it. I am planning to make it real soon!

December 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMattChristie

Hello, please can you confirm if the cooking temp is in celcius or farenheight?

Thank you!

February 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKYlie

From The Italian Dish:

KYlie: Fahrenheit.

February 13, 2011 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

This is a wonderful way to prepare fish. I first had rainbow trout prepared this way at the restaurant at the Rockbridge Trout resort in Missouri. Had no idea the origin was Sicilian! Thanks for posting this -- have now tried it at home and it works as well as I hoped it would.

March 9, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFrank

I just came across this blog and coincidentally enough was planning on making this exact recipe from this book on Good Friday!

I really am enjoying this blog!!!

April 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterClare

Thank you! Great looking recipe.

I am going to try it for my family tonight.

Oli Hille

July 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterOli Hille

I recently experienced this dish in Rome. OMG not only was it the most delicious thing I have ever tasted but the ceremony of presenting it to the table by the waiter was awesome :)

August 16, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKim

I am here in Catania, a sea port in Sicily. We had this dish tonight. It is amazing how good the fish tastes when cooked this way. Thanks!

March 11, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Novak

From The Italian Dish:


My mother went to school in Catania! Thank you for your comment - it gave me a smile today! Hope you're having a wonderful trip.

March 11, 2012 | Registered Commenter[Elaine]

i am very interested in the way you said, I will try to make their own, what you said to me a lot. Have time to look at my store, thank you!

Gourmet Secrets Canada

July 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDorothy Hodges

How many does this serve?

December 28, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGemma


i have cooked whole sea bass this way many times, but i always leave the scales on the fish so the skin is easier to remove,


May 31, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLorraine

We've enjoyed this dish while in Mexico. However, we use a lined baking sheet and cook it on the grill. It's perfect!
Thanks for sharing!

January 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSusan

Recently had salted sea bass in Milan and was looking for recipes and method and came across this. Great photos and description. Planning to do this for guests soon since this was probably the best fish dish I have had. Thanks.

June 8, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJazzereh

Can any of this dish be prepared in advance, such as the salt or can I do the whole thing, leave it in the fridge for an hour or so, then cook it?

December 20, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnthony

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