Monday, May 2, 2011

Salt of the Sea

In recent months, my brother has refused to eat iodized salt.  Given all the talk about the evils of salt, and the USDA's new nutritional guidelines for salt intake, you'd think that was a good idea, but iodized salt is important.

We've teased him about getting a goiter, which is swelling of the thyroid.  Most cases are caused by iodine deficiency and it causes a large swelling in the neck.  There was even a Seinfeld episode that made fun of a woman with a goiter.

Jerry: C’mon Elaine, it’s just a goiter…Elaine: I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t look the woman in the face. I mean I keep thinkin’ that that goiter’s gonna start talkin’ to me… You’d think they’d mention that before they send you over there: “Oh, by the way, this woman *almost* has a second head”. But no, no, I didn’t get any goiter information.Jerry: They really should mention that in the breakdown: height, weight, goiter.
(via The Old Man)

But, the reason iodized salt is so common is, in fact, no laughing matter.

In areas of the world where there is little iodine in the diet - tyically inland or mountain areas where marine foodstuffs are not consumed - the population suffers from more than just thyroid swelling.  The lack of iodine is great preventable cause of mental retardation or cretinism and is an important public-health problem.

The industrialized world has nearly eliminated this condition by lacing table salt with small amounts of iodine, and many Western cultures receive adequate iodine through drinking milk.  Recent campaigns by the United Nations and the World Health Organization have helped the developing world, too, even adding iodine to fish sauce that is preferred to white salt to give food a salty taste.

My brother and his girlfriend helped me make a salt-crusted fish for dinner this weekend, and we all felt very lucky to have been provided with enough iodine in our lives.  It is seems like a minor issue, but this element is very important to our mental and physical health.

This recipe uses kosher salt, which is not iodized, but seafood is typically rich in iodine, so you can rest easy that you won't develop that goiter anytime soon.

Salt Crusted Fish
Serves 4

3 lb red snapper (or other round-fish, a fish with eyes on both sides of head), gutted and scaled (whole or headless is okay)
6 cups of kosher salt (entire box of Morton's kosher salt)
4 egg whites
1/2 cup water
1/2 lemon, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced

I recommend that you have the fish gutted and scaled at the market, if possible.  It can be pretty messy otherwise.  My brother generously agreed to scale our fish, but it took a while to clean up all the fish scales that flew about the kitchen and back porch.  Yes, he ambitiously started cleaning the fish in the kitchen, but then realized that it was impossible to fully contain the scales as they flew about so he moved outside.  The right thing to do, absolutely, but it did create one more surface to clean.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F with rack positioned in the center.

In a large bowl, mix together salt, egg whites, and water.

Spread this salt mixture on the bottom of a large rimmed baking sheet.  You want to make a bed for your fish, about 1/4-inch thick and about the size of the fish.

Put the fish on top of this bed of salt.

Insert lemon slices and minced garlic in cavity of fish.

Then coat the top of the fish with the remaining salt mixture.  It is okay not to cover the head or tail of the fish with salt.

Roast the fish in your preheated oven for about half and hour, or until a thermometer reads between 135 and 140 degrees F.  I let the fish rest for about 10 minutes before I tried to remove the crust.

Tap the crust with the back of a large metal spoon to crack it.

Then, use the spoon and a large fork to remove the chunks of salt.  I used the spoon and my clean hands to brush any remaining salt.

Next, use the spoon or your hands to start removing the skin and push it to the side.

Start removing the top layer of flesh with the fork and/or spoon and move it directly to serving plates.

Once you've removed the entire top filet, you can remove the bones and expose the bottom filet.

Push aside the lemon slices and then use the spoon and/or fork to remove the bottom layer of flesh and move it to serving plates.


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