Walking through the fish market in the summer instantly fills my head with ideas and an instant need to create and I’m always captivated by the fresh red snapper frowning at me in the case. With it’s beautiful red and pink scales, it’s hard to walk past these gorgeous beauties without grabbing one, especially during snapper season when prices are irresistible. So, yesterday with the resident seven year old in tow, I snatched one up and asked her how we should cook it. With excitement she exclaimed, “Let’s make it a salt cave!” Which, in her world, means Salt-Roasted Red Snapper.
When I was a kid I was just like her. Any meal that came with glitz and glam I had to have! It didn’t matter if it was sea urchin, if it came in a different presentation than I was used too, I wanted to try it. My parents always thought I was crazy, probably a bit annoying, and I rarely got to order such things let alone have anything extravagant at home (steamed cauliflower with garlic salt was about how exciting things got in my house) but that made me what I am today –still curious– so there are no complaints here.
Salt-Roasted Red Snapper
Along with salmon, red snapper is one of our favorite fish to eat. Now that the summer is coming to a close and the gulf snapper season is ending, it’s time to grab all the snapper you can while prices are good! Although I do enjoy a simple fillet, there’s nothing tastier than a fresh whole snapper. The meat is so much sweeter it seems. Grilled whole snapper is also delicious but like I said, salt-roasted red snapper is pretty hard to ignore. Not only is it a gorgeous and fun presentation but by creating this dome of salt, the fish is delicately cooked in it’s own seasoned oven. This makes for the most tender and delectable fish you have ever had. Trust me! People who say they don’t like fish end up coming back for seconds.
It’s really simple to prepare and one of my favorites to entertain with because it doesn’t leave you with a fish-fragrant house. It all begins by making a slurry of water and salt. Then fill the snapper cavity with citrus and herbs, form a salt crust around the entire fish with your hands, and roast.
How To Purchase Red Snapper
Look for a red snapper that is between 2 1/2 to 3 pounds, bright in color, and smells sweet and like the ocean. It should never smell overly “fishy.” The tell-tale sign of a good fish is clear eyes. If the eyes are cloudy, walk away. For this preparation, do not have the snapper scaled. I’ve made this recipe for years and at first, I used to scale the snapper. Later, I found that by leaving the scales on it creates the perfect balance of seasoning (not overly salted), and makes the skin much easier to remove after roasting.
A light and bright sauce can really add an extra bite of deliciousness to this fish. One of my favorites, and fitting for the summer, is a Cilantro-Orange Chimmichurri. This chimichurri is herbal with flavors of orange, lemon, garlic, and cilantro and comes together fast. Keep the recipe in the back of your pocket as it goes well with grilled fish, chicken, and summer vegetables.
Wine: Gavi, Soave, Muscadet or practically any low-alcohol high-acid European whites.
Beer: Saison, Berliner Weiss, or even a citrus Gose
Cocktails: Grapefruit Frose or even a Charred Mandarin Martini
An impressive and easy dish, Salt-Roasted Red Snapper is one of the most delicious ways to eat red snapper. Serve with a cilantro-orange chimmichurri for the ultimate summer meal.
Salt-Roasted Red Snapper
- 2 1/2 to 3-pound whole red snapper, gutted but not scaled
- 3 lemon slices
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 pounds kosher salt
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 cup orange segments, cut into 1/2-inch small segments
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon orange zest, grated
- Pinch fine sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Preheat oven to 425°F with a rack in the middle. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Fill the cavity of the snapper with lemon slices and bay leaves. Alternatively, you can also use orange slices and fresh herbs such as thyme, or parsley.
- In a large bowl, combine salt and water and stir until combined and mixture resembles wet sand.
- Using 1/3 of the salt mixture, form an oval in the dimensions of the fish on the baking sheet. Lay the snapper on top of the salt then cover the snapper with the remaining salt, using your hands to mold and firmly pack the salt encasing the entire fish. If you choose to leave the tail exposed, cover it with foil or parchment paper while roasting. Place in the oven and bake for 35 minutes.
- While the snapper is roasting, combine all ingredients for the Cilantro-Orange Chimmichurri in a serving bowl and stir. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- To Serve: Allow to sit for 5 minutes then gently crack the salt with a knife or side of a spoon along the belly side and the top (dorsal) fin side. Remove the top of the salt crust, brush off any remaining salt, then make a cut behind the head and peel the skin off. Under the skin will be a beautiful large filet that can be removed easily with a spatula. Place on a serving plate. Next, grab the tail, lift up, and pull back towards the head. The bones will lift right up and expose the other fillet. Remove the fillet with a spatula and place on the serving plate. There is also a few tasty bites on top of the head, cheek, and collar of the fish that shouldn't be ignored. Serve with with chimmichurri.
by Meredith Steele
This recipe can be easily doubled for 4 to 6 servings. Roast red snappers on separate baking sheets on the top third and bottom third of the oven and rotate racks halfway through roasting.