Recipe courtesy of Veronica Chambers, Alexander Smalls, and JJ Johnson

Salt-Crusted Salmon with Collard Green Salsa Verde

There are few things as impressive as a roasted side of fish. This is one of those show-off dishes that seems like it would be hard to make, but it's not. It's worth it to track down smoked salt for that extra layer of flavor. The aromatics that go in the cavity of the fish are what we call our Afro-Asian-American foundation: cilantro, bird's-eye chile, ginger, and lemongrass stalks. Thirty minutes in the oven while you whip up the bright, rich collard green salsa verde, and you're done. There's not a single dish in my cookbook that is as impressive and as easy.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 55 min
  • Active: 25 min
  • Yield: 6 to 8 servings
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Ingredients

6 cups coarse salt (kosher salt or smoked sea salt)

6 egg whites

4 lemongrass stalks, tough outer layers removed, halved lengthwise

One 1-inch piece fresh ginger, sliced

1 bird's-eye chile, seeded and chopped

1/2 bunch fresh cilantro sprigs

One 2-pound side of wild salmon, skin-on, pin bones removed

2 cups Collard Green Salsa Verde, recipe follows

Collard Green Salsa Verde:

1 bunch collard greens, coarsely chopped 

1/4 cup Brazil nuts 

1 head garlic, cloves peeled 

1/2 bunch fresh parsley, coarsely chopped 

1 cup olive oil 

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (from about 1 lemon) 

Kosher salt 

1/2 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
  2. Mix the salt and egg whites in a medium bowl with your hands and incorporate until the mixture feels like wet sand.
  3. Spread 1 1/2 cups of the salt mixture into a thin layer, in the shape of the salmon, on a baking sheet. (You may need to spread the mixture diagonally on the baking sheet.)
  4. Arrange the lemongrass, ginger, chile, and cilantro over the bed of salt. Place the fish, skin side up, on the bed of salt and aromatics and pack the remaining salt mixture over and around the fish, molding it to the shape of the fillet, sealing the fish and aromatics inside.
  5. Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The salt crust should have a warm golden color almost like sand and be rock hard. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Present the fish at the table within its salt crust, then, using a wooden spoon, strike the crust to crack it. Carefully lift pieces of the salt crust from the fish in large chunks. Peel back the skin, exposing the juicy, perfectly cooked fish. Divide the fish among plates. Discard the salt and aromatics.
  7. Serve with the salsa verde.

Collard Green Salsa Verde:

  1. In a food processor, pulse the collard greens, Brazil nuts, garlic, parsley and olive oil until thoroughly combined. You can use a flexible rubber spatula to scrape down the ingredients in the food processor to make sure everything mixes evenly. 
  2. Transfer the mixture to a bowl, add the lemon zest and salt to taste (I use about 1 1/2 teaspoons). Stir in the vinegar just before serving.
  3. Adapted and excerpted from "Between Harlem and Heaven: Afro-Asian-American Cooking for Big Nights, Weeknights, and Every Day" by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers. Copyright © 2018 by JJ Johnson and Alexander Smalls with Veronica Chambers. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Beatriz da Costa.

Cook’s Note

To keep the vibrant color of the salsa verde, hold off on adding the vinegar until just before serving to avoid oxidation and discoloration. The salt crust seals in the juices, making for an incredibly moist and flavorful fish. You can substitute any fish of similar flesh type, such as striped bass or snapper, for the salmon.

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