Traditionally in France, the crust is made of salt -- which congeals and holds during the baking process, and is then shattered and removed before serving.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 1/4 cups coarse salt
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
2 large egg whites
2-pound whole red snapper (with head and tail intact)
1/4 cup olive oil
2 shallots, minced
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium tomato, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. Whisk together the flour, cornmeal, coarse salt, and rosemary in a large bowl. Add the egg whites and 1/2 cup of water, and stir with a wooden spoon until combined well. Add additional water (approximately 1/4 cup) until a stiff dough is formed. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to a size just large enough to enclose the fish and transfer the dough to a baking sheet.
3. Wrap the fish completely in the dough, pressing the edges together to seal them, and bake for 25 minutes.
4. While the fish is baking, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a small saucepan over moderately low heat, add the shallots, and cook stirring, for 2 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add the wine and garlic, and boil the mixture until the liquid is reduced by half. Stir in the tomato and parsley, and simmer for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
5. Using a sharp knife, make a slit in the crust across the fish and just below the head. Then, make a long slit that goes along the center of the fish from that first cut straight down to the tail (you will now have a long T-cut on the upper side of the crust). Peel the crust away from the fish. Fillet the fish, divide it evenly between 2 plates, and spoon the sauce over and around the fish.
When you're cooking whole fish in the oven, sealing it inside a tough, impenetrable crust is the best way to retain the delicate fish flavor and keep the fish very moist and juicy. Traditionally in France, the crust is made of salt—which congeals and holds during the baking process, and is then shattered and removed before serving. But we've found that adding cornmeal to the salt does an even better job of sealing in the fish—plus the shell is much easier to remove when the fish is done. For all the salt in the coating, the fish emerges not salty at all—and it makes a beautiful presentation if you slip it from its crust in full view of your dining partner. Just make sure your companion doesn't eat the salty crust. The sauce that accompanies the fish supplies a wonderful new American emphasis. Serves 2 Recommended wine: Viognier