Over the years, I’ve watched a number of the original Iron Chef episodes where either an Iron Chef or challenger has made something called “salt crust grill”. The instances of the dish looked interesting enough that I really wanted to know what it tasted like. A few years ago, the Intercontinental Hotel opened a branch hotel near Fort Point Channel in Boston and with it came a restaurant called Miel. I had the opportunity to have lunch at Miel fairly soon after it opened and tried the salt crust seabass; it was quite a nice dish and it motivated me to thinking how I could do it at home.
Then came the release of Yoshihiro Murata’s Kaiseki and Nobu Matsuhisa’s Nobu West in 2006. Both books featured, basically a salt-crust grill for abalone. Looking over both recipes, I started thinking how I could adapt the recipe for fish. I was further inspired after seeing the Nobu Hong Kong menu entry for Salt Baked Black Cod With Dried Miso (which, as I understand it, as spread to many of the other Nobu restaurants). The online version of the recipe can be found at http://escoffier-china.com/salt-baked-black-cod
The recipe calls for:
* 2/3 cups Flour
* 160 gms Black Cod fillet
* 10 cm Kombu (previously soaked in Sake)
* 1 gms Maldon Sea Salt
* 1 pcs Fresh Lotus Leaf
* 50 gms Egg Whites
* 200 gms Fine Salt
* 2 tbs Dry Miso
* 1 tbs Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
* 1 tsp Chopped Chives
So Tuesday night (2 Apr 2013), I decided to take a crack at trying the dish – just to see if I could get the technique down. I went and got a pound of skinned chilean seabass fillet and a large head of nappa cabbage. I blanched 4
big outer nappa leaves to get them nice and soft to wrap 2 1/2 lb portions of the chilean seabass based on the salt-baked abalone from Nobu West – the online recipe can be found here:
I wrapped each fillet with two large nappa leaves and then placed the packet into a small heat-proof Revol oval
ramekin. To cover the packet with the salt crust, it turned out that I needed to make two batches (one for each serving) of the salt crust using 1 cup salt of kosher salt (diamond crystal kosher salt was used here because I’d
read that the salt flakes would help to form a better crust – see: http://www.finecooking.com/item/30443/video-recipe-salt-crusted-fish) and 1/4 cup egg white. I carefully covered each packet
with the salt crust and then popped it into a preheated 425 degrees countertop oven for 30 minutes.
When the fish was cooked through, I cracked the sides of the salt crust carefully so as not to splash salt crust
fragments all over the cooked interior, removed the salt crust dome, peeled off the nappa leaves and moved the
fish to a serving dish. The fish was surrounded by a carrot and baby shanghai greens stir fry that my wife volunteered to make as a side/garnish. A tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil was poured over the top, then a tablespoon of yuzu juice and then a sprinkling of dry miso (“Sake/Konbu Steamed Fish With Olive Oil, Yuzu And Dry Miso” anyone?).
Upon tasting the dish, it seemed to me that it was unnecessary to season the fish with a little salt before wrapping it up in the nappa leaves – just enough salt from the salt crust seemed to have seeped through the nappa leaves to the fish, leaving it perfectly seasoned. Since Chef Naesheim of the Nobu restaurants had wrapped his fish fillet in the lotus leaf, I imagine the thickness of the leaf prevented the salt crust from getting through to the fish fillet. When my wife had heard I was going to make this dish, she was extremely skeptical about how the dish would turn out. It was her concern that the dish was going to be too salty for her. As it turned out, she had the same reaction to the dish that I had and now she’s a big believer in this dish.
The next time I do this dish, I’ll definitely add the sake soaked konbu and try it with another fish like mackerel, etc. Thank you Matsuhisa-sama and Chef Naesheim for sharing the recipe/techinque!