Provisions: Salt-Baked Trout
When I was asked to deep dive on the origins of salt baking fish, I signed on with a bit of naive pomposity – preparing the ingredients almost immediately, then casually procrastinating on the research, assuming the Internet held a wealth of knowledge to digest and regurgitate for you here. Wrong.
The history of salt baking, incidentally, requires a trip to the library and a fine tooth comb through annals of culinary history spanning the spice trade to the early origins of food preservation and the Persian Empire.
I narrowed things down to salt cooking itself, the practice of encasing and baking some sort of meat in a vault of salt, to a few anecdotes in the 17th century whereby the Spanish, French, Portuguese and the Italians all claim invention.
Editors Note: In our experience, anywhere with an abundance of saltwater (and therefore salt) and fresh fish is a good spot for salt-baked trout. See: the San Juan Islands.
In an effort not to offend my neighbors, and because salt-baking is such a humble technique that it’s hardly worth fighting over who baked it first, let’s fast-forward to why it exists in the first place. The science is simple: burying and covering a fish (freshly caught Pacific Northwest trout, in this instance) in salt creates an intense moisture barrier whereby the fish basically steams in a salt cocoon and disallows moisture and flavor to evaporate.
You can apply the technique to any fish in a traditional indoor oven, outside on the grill, or even at your campsite over an open flame.
Wondering if the the fish tastes super salty? Surprisingly, no. The salt mixture turns itself into a brick wall, leaching and lending only the smallest amounts of sodium to the fish itself. You can apply the technique to any fish in a traditional indoor oven, outside on the grill, or even at your campsite over an open flame.
Salt baking has an air of culinary magic to it as well. The technique is surefire to draw oohs and ahhs from the peanut gallery as your crack open your salt pack and make the big reveal. Timmy Malloy (above left), executive sous chef of Tavolàta Capitol Hill in Seattle and creator of henceforth baked trout recipe, comes clean: “Breaking that crust open on the fish and revealing it all steamy and sexy is just kick ass.” This is one of those rare times when “kick ass” doesn’t have to be spendy: a three pound box of Morton’s Kosher Salt runs about $2, and if you're handy with a pole, the rest of the meal is on Mother Nature. [H]