How to Roast In a Salt Crust and Why You Should
All you need is a lot of salt and an egg white.
Sometimes, your cooking life needs a little drama. There are, of course, those Tuesday night standbys, those quick, flavorful, and filling meals that you need to throw together just to keep body and spirit together. There's not a thing wrong with those, but I admit, sometimes I feel the need for a special project, something a touch more complicated and whimsical, even. At the same time, I'm not trying to dirty every single pot and pan I own, given that I have no dishhwasher and limited patience for scrubbing. During those times, I'll turn to a slightly flashy, old-school technique called salt baking.
Also know as salt roasting, or simply roasting in a salt crust, salt baking is what it sounds like, pretty much. You get a great deal of salt and an egg white and shape it into a kind of sandy paste that encases whatever it is you're hoping to bake. Pop it in the oven, and at the end, you'll have a golden brown layer of salt over your roast. When you crack it open, there's a torrent of steam and a juicy, flavorful treat inside.
Salt baking is famously good for cooking fish, since the crust traps in moisture and prevents the fish from drying out. It's great on many kinds of fish, like trout or salmon. But it's also a great technique for meat, like in this recipe for salt-crusted prime rib, or this one for salt-crusted Cornish hen. On meat that doesn't naturally have a lot of fat on it, it's a great way to make sure that it stays moist and intact. It's great for game, like venison or elk. It's also an interesting roasting twist for large format vegetables, like butternut squash, or, say, these salt-crusted beets withh avocado and thyme. Though vegetables don't have the same likelihood as fish of getting way overcooked, with somethihng like beet or squash, the salt traps in the moisture rather than allowing them to evaporate, making for tender vegetables that have been seasoned from the outside in. Oh yeah—the salt baking takes care of the seasoning for you, too. You can mix it with herbs to add even more flavor.
The only thing to keep in mind with this is that you aren't going to be able to easily see the contents of the salt packet, so keep an eye on the oven temperature, and lean towards leaving it in a few more minutes. You also can't reuse the salt once you've had it in a crust, so this is not the time to break our your most expensive prized sea salt... unless you just really want to. Regular kosher or table salt will work perfectly fine for salt baking.