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Whole Fish Roasted in Salt

This fish and accompanying butter sauce are adapted from Fish Without a Doubt by Roy Finamore and Rick Moonen (Houghton Mifflin, to be published May 2008). I used red lane snapper, a variety of snapper that shows up in the markets at a good price sometimes. But any snapper, or any medium-sized, whole round fish such as cod or haddock (as opposed to flatfish such as flounder or plaice), will work.

Makes 2 to 4 servings, depending on the size of the fish

4 large egg whites

1/2 cup water

4 cups coarse (kosher) salt

1 whole fish (1 1/4 to 2 pounds), gutted, gills and fins removed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy cleanup. Whisk the egg whites and water in a large bowl until very frothy and about doubled in volume. Pour in the salt and mix well with your hands. You are going for something the consistency of wet sand. If crust seems dry, add a few more tablespoons water.

Pat out 1 cup of the crust mixture on the baking sheet into the size and shape of your fish. Set the fish on top and cover with the remaining crust mix. Wet your hands and pat the crust all over, smoothing it out and making sure the fish is completely sealed.

Roast smaller fish for 30 minutes, larger fish for 35 minutes.

Remove the fish from the oven and crack the crust along the sides with the back of a big spoon. Lift the crust up off the fish.

Let the fish cool for a few minutes, then peel off the skin. Slide the top fillet off the bones and serve. Grab the tail and lift up the bones. Lift the remaining fillet off the bottom crust and skin (or lift off the fillet with the skin and take the skin off separately, if that's easier) and serve with butter sauce.

Basic Butter Sauce

Finamore and Moonen recommend using an immersion blender, warning that an ordinary blender won't emulsify the sauce properly. That may be so, but since I don't have an immersion blender, I used an ordinary one, and the results were terrific. I can't say the same for a food processor. There aren't enough shallots, so they would miss the blade or ride up the side in a wide carafe.

1/2 cup sliced shallots

3/4 cup water

1 sprig thyme

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Coarse salt

Put the shallots, water and thyme in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook at a low boil until the shallots are very soft and the water has reduced to a generous 1/4 cup.

Remove the thyme and turn the heat to low. Remove the shallots to a blender and puree for about 30 seconds. Add a piece of butter and continue to puree, emulsifying the water and butter. Continue adding the butter piece by piece, incorporating each bit of butter before adding another. The sauce will become light and very pale yellow. Strain the sauce through a fine sieve, pushing down on any solids that remain with a wooden spoon. Return the sauce to the pan. Season with salt.

You can serve the sauce right away or keep it warm at the back of the stove for an hour or so, giving it a whisk once in a while.

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