Monday, August 6, 2012

My Summer Dinner Menu - Salt Baked Fish and Pumpkin Soup

Many people thought cooking the whole fish is a very Asian thing - one may immediately relate to the classic Cantonese dish of steamed garoupa with ginger and green onions, or those grilled fish with chili sauce wrapped in banana leaves commonly seen in Thai restaurants. Well, it's only partially true. While this is probably more common in this part of the world, numerous western dishes involved cooking fish in the whole - for example, barramundi or rainbow trout are 2 kinds of fish often cooked as the whole - with barbecue in open fire or baked in an oven the preferred way of cooking.

Having spent a good part of summer in inner part of China where seawater fish was not readily available, I have been craving for fish when I am finally home. So I decided to do a salt-baked fish on this hot and humid Sunday evening.

The dish was actually inspired by a French bistro in Soho called On Lot 10. Their menu changes constantly based on whatever seasonal ingredients they get their hands on, but if you see salt-baked fish being offered, order it. They got their fish in the local market every day in the morning so it's of limited quantity, and their size and species are different every time, and they often served that in family-style, often big enough for 2-4 people.

It's not that hard to make that at home actually - well true it is a bit messy dealing with the whole fish in your own kitchen when cooked and on the table when served, but it's quick to cook, the steps are straight forward and it can easily become the center of attention on the dining table when you bring out the whole fish wrapped in salt crust.

Recipe: Salt-baked Fish (for 2-4 people)

  • One whole fish - I prefer fish with firmer texture, so snapper or garoupa would be perfect. If you don't know which one to pick, as the fishmonger what's fresh and good that day.
  • Coarse Salt - plenty of it. Get yours at local supermarket or the grocery stall in the wet market. Its main purpose is to form a crust in which the fish can be cooked with most of its moisture and flavor retained, so there's no point getting fancy (and expensive) salt for this purpose. Save your bloc of Himalayan rock salt for your steak next time.
  • 4 Bay Leaves.
  • Dry Rosemary - handful (any other dry herbs will do, try parsley or thyme) 

Fish is always best when cooked fresh - try to buy your fish on the same day you cook them, or if you must, get it the evening before and keep that in the refrigerator overnight until you are ready. Most fishmongers in Hong Kong will do the cleaning for you by removing all the inner parts and scales, so you don't need to do much after you brought it home - just rinsing it in running water to remove the blood and loose parts will do.

Put rosemary (or other dry herbs) in the cavity of the fish.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C. Find a baking dish big enough to hold the whole fish, and line the bottom of the fish with coarse salt. Put 2 bay leaves in the middle, then lay the fish on top of the salt. Pile more salt on the fish until it's totally covered in a thick layer of salt. You would need 2-3 packets of that. Pat down the salt firmly so the fish is completely wrapped.

Place the baking dish in the middle section of the oven. Cooking time varies depending on the size of the fish - but give it 15-25 minutes. Unfortunately you can't test its doneness until the time of serving, so when in doubt, leave the dish in a bit longer just to be sure - it's hard to overcook with this method.

When served, remove the salt crust gently by a knife or the back of your spoon - it should come out easily. Slowly remove the skin as well and run your knife through the middle of the fish to remove its bones. Divide the fish into serving plates.

After that, a quick drizzle of olive oil and a dash of lemon juice is generally all that is needed, or you can make a pesto sauce by blending fresh basil, salt and olive oil, like I did. That goes well with the fish as well. For our dinner, we also had roast potato wedges with rosemary as side dish - I roast the potatoes on a separate dish along side with my fish. That took a little longer - about 40 minutes, so do your potatoes first, and put your fish in later.

To complete the meal, I also made a roast kabocha (aka Japanese pumpkin) soup which is perfect in summer time when the fruit's ripe and the soup has this refreshing tangy flavor in a colorful presentation which are not only appealing to your eyes but to your appetite. Here's the quick recipe:

Recipe: Roast Kabocha Soup (for 2-4 people)

  • Half a medium-sized kabocha pumpkin (which can be found in Japanese supermarkets)
  • Olive Oil
  • Whipping Cream - half a cup
  • Chicken Stock - one cup
  • Ground Cinnamon - 0.5 teaspoon
  • Sour Cream - 3 tablespoon
  • Salt and Pepper - to taste
  • Chives - to garnish


Remove the seeds and membrane from the pumpkin. Prick the pumpkin with fork, and brush with olive oil (and leave plenty of olive oil in the cavity of the pumpkin).

Pre-heat oven to 170C. Put the pumpkin in a baking dish and roast for 30 minutes or until tender. Scoop the flesh out and put into the blender along with the chicken stock. Puree until smooth - add water or more chicken stock if necessary.

Pour the puree into a pot, stir in the whipping cream and cinnamon, and gently heat to boil. Add salt and pepper if necessary. Set aside until ready to serve. (re-heat later if necessary)

When served, ladle the soup into a bowl, drizzle olive oil and stir in the sour cream. Garnish with finely chopped chives.

As for wine to pair, I went back to one of the white wines we enjoyed tremendously in Tuscany a few months back - a 2007 I Sistri IGT chardonnay from Felsina. It sure brought back good memories.


This is actually done as part of the #CookForFamily initiative started by a Singaporean blogger Daniel (of Daniel's Food Diary) - with over 100 bloggers (mostly in Singapore) participating in this project of spending a day to cook for their families (and loved ones), blog about the experience and spread the words on other social media.

Check out what other Hong Kong bloggers (Chopstixfix, e_ting and Razlan) have to say about home cooking and spreading the love by food!


best restaurants in singapore said...

Thanks for sharing this blog..

Razlan said...

Hey, didn't know you also blogged about this. I'll link you right up! :)


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