Salt snapper with dried oregano flower, recipe by Alberto Chicote.
Historical technique of the Mediterranean culture, salt cooking is applied to fish and even seafood to preserve its texture and juiciness
Back in the 80s, his gilthead was a true icon of the Madrid hospitality industry. The whole piece covered with salt - in a fountain - arrived at the dining room of La Dorada on Calle Orense (Madrid) and, on an auxiliary table, that saline shell was opened to extract the loins of the fish that gave name to that concept of cooking Andalusian sailor created by Félix Cabeza. The ritual, which guaranteed the prominence of the discreet room staff, was also repeated in their cabins (as the restaurant's private ones were called).
This preparation, via locals such as La Dorada, lived moments of splendor in Madrid establishments two or three decades ago , with business clientele among its guests. Today, in the capital there are still establishments that have kept the recipe in their menu, such as La Ancha. "Since before we were born [current generation], salt fish was already made in La Ancha," says Nino Redruello , who recalls that these are still part of the offer of the two venues of this Madrid restaurant, with options like sea bass and gilthead sea bream.
Born probably in the Mediterranean culture, some describe the technique as millenarian and, in any case, it counts historical versions signed by the fishermen themselves, such as cooking specimens covered with salt on a stone under which the fire was lit.
Basically, it consists of coating with salt, something moistened with water, fish (with head, skin, bones and almost always with scales) to bake it in the oven . Sometimes, egg white is incorporated to give it consistency. Once roasted, the hardened outer crust is removed - it almost seems like an armor - because of the cooking effect and is cleaned to extract the loins (it is normal to remove the skin because it has excess salt).
This method prevents the juices from escaping, keeps the salt point (which can become almost perfect without adding it) and preserves the original taste of the fish (even concentrates it), resulting in a juicy and very subtle bite and , sometimes, even enhances the taste of the most bland.
OILS AND SAUCES
And this apparently seemingly austere recipe has a lot to offer. «On the one hand, it is cooked in a closed environment where it is cooked with its own water and, being completely waterproof, does not lose juiciness. On the other hand, the fat salt contributes in an almost magical way by osmosis the amount of salt that the fish needs ”, argues Nino Redruello .
Faced with the idea that a salt fish gives rise to a somewhat bland elaboration (in the sense of lack of grace) and, according to whom, even tasteless, the cooked and already clean loins can be seasoned with an EVOO jet Raw or some sauce. For example, in La Ancha, they are served with cooked potato, olive oil and tartar sauce .
But the Redruello are not the only followers of this shell , which is almost always raised to share between two or more people depending on the size of the piece . Thus, we find it with sea bass - or bass - as the protagonist in Galician stores in the capital such as Villa de Foz or Cabo Fisterra; in The Machine , in branches such as Chamberí; in Ca Teresa , El Saler (Valencia); at Castillo Hotel Son Vida, in Palma de Mallorca, a city where Las Terrazas del Bendinat salt crust is also famous, and in El Portal (Alicante), where Sergio Sierra accompanies it (as it does with any other species that offers the market of the day) with a vegetable pastry and three sauces as a dressing.
LUBINA AND MORE
But the bass is not alone . There are many more fish to which this preparation applies . Thus, on the Andalusian coast, we find them in almost beach directions such as Nuevo Reino (San Pedro de Alcántara, Málaga), where snappers, Tarifa sea bream, sargos, La Linea gilts or five kilos are used , fish that is dispatches in Antonio , hotel-restaurant in Zahara de los Atunes, which also uses bream, grouper , snapper and sea bream. In La Loma (Sancti Petri) they opt for urta, sole or snapper (in addition to sea bass), while in the Marbal-la s marbellí, they only opt for gilthead sea bream, which they also serve in espeto . Some of these species are part of the offer of La Sal , in Zahara de los Atunes, where a curiosity stands out: the bluefin tuna with salt trawling, available, sometimes, in Madrid's Ultramarinos Quintín , a business of Sandro Silva and Marta Seco within Grupo Umbrellas. And, heading inland, in La Gorda Taberna (Zamora) they have good sargos and salt breams .
IN MODERN KEY
In addition, find space in modern premises. In Lobito de Mar , a marine concept of Dani García with offices in Madrid and Marbella, they resort to this treatment (with potatoes or vegetables as a garnish) «naturally, to prepare sea bass. Not because it is more tasteless. It is a question of texture and also of culture because, basically, many other fish , such as sea bream, sea bream or sea bass, are also worth submitting to salt ”, reasons the chef Marbellí, who for a few days offers a whole Innovation: Black salt sea bass with orange and ceps .
"We call it ash salt because it is made with leek powder, roasted, dried and crushed," he explains. The formula flavors sea bass, which is accompanied by pickled ceps and vegetable salad.
And the technique is the plan B of the proposal of Baroz , project opened last September by Enrique Valentí in the place that formerly occupied Low Tide (floor 24 of the Colón Building, in Barcelona), whose offer is starring the rice fields. "As these are blunt for the night, we came up with the inclusion of salt fish in the dinner menu," says the chef.
In Baroz, just above Marea Alta (its concept of marine cuisine), sea bass, sea bream and dentons are cooked under these guidelines: «We make them in a classical way, with a proportion of salt, sea water and egg white and we serve with tartar, mayonnaise and dutch, ”says Valentí . These guidelines are, by the way, key to the success of this type of dishes
COOKING AT HOME
Just as Dani García rehearses formulas such as mixing salt with roasted leek powder, the Alberto Chicote television offers - via social networks - a good trick to cook a salt snapper at home . «I like to add some herb that gives it a different aroma», suggests the chef, who puts dried oregano flower on the salt before placing the snapper and, in turn, on it, before coating it with the salty mixture «lightly moistened ». Chicote encourages the incorporation of aromas, with ingredients such as basil, dill, bay leaf, chervil, thyme, fennel, grated ginger, sage or parsley .
Likewise, crustaceans are ideal candidates for saline treatment. That is the case of the prawns from Mirador Doñana , a Cadiz business in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, which also uses this technique that qualifies as "millenary" in a roasted tuna and in a whole collection of fish - defends its use because it "provides a product very juicy, with its concentrated flavors and aromas ». Crayfish in salt crust are an iconic dish of Raúl Aleixandre, which began dispatching them in the disappeared Ca'Sento and, now, recovers in Baobab (Valencia).
Other clues: you can try an extraordinary red shrimp in Els Pescadors, in Llançà , on the north Costa Brava, where the crustacean is served on a «salt bed for the lady », without covering it completely; or a salt shrimp in Bodega del Riojano (Santander).
More seafood suitable for the saline formula: bivalves like the razors that Pablo Cáceres, in front of Arcos 3 Catering (Huelva) , prepares to later dress them with oil and citrus, or the barnacles that the Galician Iván Domínguez, today in NaDo (La Coruña) ), cooked in salt crust with egg white, flour, bay leaf and several seaweed, including a sea branch smoothie .
The latest innovation comes from the hand of Ángel León, who this year applied in Aponiente (El Puerto de Santa María, Cádiz) the technique to humble fish such as tapas or shellfish such as prawns and barnacles . But the treatment applied by Chef del Mar is not conventional , but the result of an investigation that, through a liquid mixture of four types of salt, cooks in seconds any piece when poured on it, guaranteeing good texture and marine flavor . The diner himself can make his plate sitting at the table.
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