He fixed me with a cool stare as the water streamed over and through his body, taking away the last vestiges of the things that made him whole. He continued to stare silently as I dried him, dressed him and placed him on his bed, his final resting place. After tucking him in, I bid Daniel a final farewell before shutting the door.

When I opened it again, he was cooked and ready to eat. Of course, “Daniel” was the star of my Christmas lunch – a tarakihi fish baked in salt.

Every year since I started taking an interest in cooking, I’ve used Christmas as a chance to try out recipes using ingredients or techniques I wouldn’t normally use. In 2012 it was honey mustard glazed ham. In 2013 it was “Pinchy” the crayfish. And in 2014, it was “Daniel” the salt-baked fish.

The first time I saw the technique of baking something in salt was on one of last year’s episodes of My Kitchen Rules, where a team cooked beef in a salt casing. It’s an old technique that, as far as my extremely limited research has shown, probably originated in Carthage (north Africa). More commonly, I’ve seen recipes state that it’s an old Spanish or Italian technique of cooking.

I debated whether salt-baking would be worth the effort and I’ve decided it really is. It produced some of the most tender, well-seasoned fish I’ve ever eaten and it really doesn’t require that much effort. Even the amount of salt wasn’t as ridiculous as I initially thought it would be. While recipes call for rock or sea salt (more expensive but preferred because the larger granules allow the salt mixture to form more easily), I found it worked perfectly well with a combination of table salt and sea salt.

Here is the recipe I followed. Just a little tip: apparently it’s best to leave the scales on the fish, which is what I did, but some recipes make no distinction. The scales prevent the fish from being over-salted but if you’ve found this otherwise then do let me know!

Have a go and take pleasure in cracking open that beautiful golden salt casing!

Salt-baked Tarakihi fish. Photo: Tao Lin

Salt-baked Tarakihi fish. Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

“Of all tastes, salt”

Many people love to make jokes about the amount of salt I put on my food when I eat (“Would you like some steak with that salt?”). Contrary to what people may think though, I do understand the health risks of having too much salt but I don’t put salt on everything and when I do, it’s always only enough to taste. I’m definitely of the opinion that a little bit of salt goes a long way – it is one of the basic human tastes after all – and it really is a simple but perfect seasoning.

Although salt is perhaps one of my best friends in the kitchen, I don’t really know all that much about it. Only yesterday had I come across the term “kosher salt”, which I believe – but correct me if I’m wrong – is another name, or another form, of rock salt. It’s a little bit fancy and a little bit more expensive than good old table salt but cooks love using it.

After a Google search and some light reading, I learned that table salt is mined from underground salt deposits while sea salt is derived from the sea (obviously) through the evaporation of sea water. Kosher salt can come from either source but it’s the use of it in “koshering”, or drawing blood out of, meat that gives it its name.

The origins of this stem from the Bible forbidding the ingestion of blood and large granules of salt were used to effectively draw the blood out without dissolving into the meat. “Kosher” means, of course, to conform to the Jewish dietary regulations of kashrut.

Being able to learn even simple knowledge like this is one of the things that gives me great joy in learning how to cook.

“Of all smells, bread; of all tastes, salt.”
– George Herbert, (1593-1633)