By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Today I am in the kitchen with Giani Respinto, co-owner of GianMarco’s Restaurant. Respinto shares his recipe, knife skills, fish buying tips, and humor while making Whole Salt-Crusted Baked Mangrove Snapper with Italian Salsa Verde.
For starters he strongly recommends you find a good fish monger whom you trust. “Fresh fish should not look dead,” he says. “Touch the fish. Your fingers should bounce back firm to touch skin and meat. It should have clear, not sunken eyes. Inside the meat should be nice bright red. It should not smell fishy. If fish smells fishy, don’t buy it. Fish should smell like the ocean.”
For the Italian Salsa Verde, he suggests sharpening your knife skills rather than using a food processor or blender. At the restaurant they serve this dish with warm potato salad and in-season green beans, and add the remaining salsa verde to chopped fresh heirloom tomatoes, making a tomato salad.
Whole Salt-Crusted Baked Mangrove Snapper
½ pound kosher salt
12 farm egg whites
1-1 ½ pound mangrove snapper
1 lemon, sliced
A few sprigs fresh rosemary
Italian Salsa Verde (recipe below)
Add ½ pound kosher salt to a large mixing bowl because you always want to add wet ingredients into dry, rather than vice versa. Wearing gloves to protect your hands from the salt, add some of the egg whites to the bowl of salt, incorporating them into the salt by using your hands and fingers to bind. Repeat until they are bound together. Press the mixture into bottom of half sheet pan, making the bottom of salt coffin.
Lay the fish on salt bed. Stuff with aromatics of lemon slices and fresh rosemary. As the fish steams from inside out, these aromatics will season from inside out. Completely cover the top and sides of whole fish with the salt and egg mixture. Bake at 350 to 400° (depending on heat of your oven) for approximately 18 minutes.
While the fish is baking, prepare the Italian Salsa Verde. Remove the fish from the oven; the salt crust should hard as a rock and slightly golden. Bust the salt crust with a knife, and remove salt crust in big chunks. Put a fork underneath the tail, and lift the skin up and away from fish. Remove fish from bones with a fork and place on a platter, ensuing the fish does not touch surrounding salt. Pull bones back from the tail and remove them. Remove the bottom half of meat to platter. Spoon salsa verde over top of fish. Serves two. Note: Fish will not need table salt before tasting.
Italian Salsa Verde
½ cup chopped Italian parsley (not curly parsley)
1 tablespoon red onion, minced
1 clove garlic, smashed and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon capers, smashed and chopped
Fresh rosemary, chopped
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Cracked black pepper
Pink Himalayan salt
Add parsley to bowl. Smash anchovies with side of knife blade, and chop them finely. Add anchovies, onions, garlic, and capers to bowl. Mix with a spoon. Squeeze juice from lemons, and add it to the bowl. Add the olive oil, and mix together with spoon. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.