Don't let Mario Batali's salt-crust baking procedure scare you off. The shell seals in moisture and flavors, and the fish steams without drying out. Because the salt hardens around the fish and is removed before serving, the flesh doesn't end up unusually salty. (Some diners even find they have to add salt.) It also makes a highly dramatic presentation. Ask a favorite guest to break the crust.
Whole Fish Baked in Salt Crust
MARIO BATALI AND DAVID PASTERNACK
6 egg whites
3 cups kosher salt
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 whole 4-to-5-pound black sea bass (other firm fish, such as porgy, may be substituted), cleaned, gutted, and scaled
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Whisk egg whites till they form soft peaks, and fold in salt. 1. Place thyme in body cavity of fish, and set the fish aside. Spread 4 tablespoons of egg-white mixture on a large oven-safe platter. (This will be the serving plate.) 2. Place fish on platter and spoon remaining egg-white mixture over top. 3. Place the platter in the oven, and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes. 4. Using a wooden spoon, strike crust to crack. Carefully remove pieces of salt crust from top of fish and divide meat among six plates. Serve with your best extra-virgin olive oil and lemon wedges. A great accompaniment would be a plate of marinated roasted peppers.