Salt-encrusted Yellowtail Snapper with Thyme

Today was a rainy day, and this kind of weather makes me so excited for autumn! But what I am trying to savor is this — where we are now — what I think is the best part of summer in Colorado. The heat waves are gone, and every afternoon a huge thunderhead rolls in and puts on an amazing show of lightning and rain.  

While I was out this morning, I found beautiful whole Yellowtail Snapper wild-caught from the Gulf on special at the market. This I cannot pass up. And when I see whole fish, I go on auto-pilot and think of an incredible late afternoon lunch of salt-encrusted fish we enjoyed eight years ago on the sidewalk patio of a casual little restaurant in Sirmione, a small town at the south end of Lago di Garda. Nothing could have been better. I love to repeat that and don’t do it often enough.

So, with the cool temps blowing through the windows, I decided this was a night for turning that oven on and treating that fish right.

The beauty of salt-encrusted fish is that it comes out perfectly seasoned, and incredibly moist. No dry fish here. I love the flavor of thyme, if you haven’t noticed, and so there I was, out at the herb garden, picking thyme leaves as fast as humanly possible as the thunder and lightening cracked above my head (I had serious thoughts of how stupid I would be marked, if a bolt actually got me this time). With just over a tablespoon of leaves picked, the deluge began, and as I sprinted inside, I decided: one tablespoon will be plenty. Sometimes, I think this is how recipes are born!

The key here, as with any fish is this: use a thermometer (thickest part of the fish should be 120-125° F). I whipped up a quick salad of baby arugula, and sliced into a crusty loaf. Dinner was served in no time, and a very happy family sat down to eat it.

Salt-encrusted Yellowtail Snapper with Thyme

by Stephanie Kunstle

Note: feel free to use any kind of whole fish. Fresh trout is delicious as is any salt-water fish. Just needs to be whole!


  • one whole wild-caught fish (2 lbs feeds 2 adults and 2 children), gutted and scales removed (most fishmongers do this anyway)
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1 cup coarse sea salt
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. thyme leaves, chopped
  • 1 small handful of Italian parsley
  • butter (for greasing the pan)


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a large heavy baking sheet.
  2. Whip egg whites until very stiff (I basically just turn on my Kitchen Aid mixter and let them go while I run out into the rain and pick herbs!).
  3. Fold in salt and thyme leaves.
  4. Spread about 1/3 of the salt mixture along the length of the baking sheet (wide enough to provide a bed for your fish to nestle in).
  5. Place the fish on the salt mixture, and then generously salt the cavity and stuff with parsley.
  6. With remaining salt mixture, cover fish, using a spatula to completely enclose it.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes or so, until it reaches about 120-125° F. The salt crust will be golden and hard.
  8. Using a fork and spoon, gently remove the salt crust and the top layer of skin to reveal the moist, flavourful fish. Scoop out pieces, and enjoy hot!
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7 Responses to Salt-encrusted Yellowtail Snapper with Thyme

  1. rita says:

    My mom always used to behead the whole fish that we ate – so I still have a hard time looking a dead fish in the eye. But this recipe is worth it. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Tío says:

    OH MY GOSH! yes please.

  3. em says:

    Somehow you would get stuck out in a lightning storm picking herbs!! ha!
    This recipe looks awesome! I’ve never ever heard of salt encrusted anything and I think I’d like to try it. It looks too easy but the egg white and salt mixture makes sense that it would stay moist. I’ll have to find a good fish market and try out some local catch with this recipe. Yummy!

  4. Stephanie says:

    Em — who says cooking is dull work in the kitchen, right? ha! A little lightening storm definitely adds adrenaline. Now, hurry up and tell us about all that fantastic fish available on the island!

  5. J diddy says:

    After having this I now need an angel food cake. When it comes out of the oven it looks just like a big loaf of angel food cake!
    But the fish was great, very moist and delicious. One of my favorite fish recipes.

  6. Em says:

    I made it this evening and it turned out wonderfully!!!! My local fish emporium had sea bass and it was so moist and delicious! I especially loved Joel’s reaction, “Whoa! What is THAT?” “Why did you put egg whites on it?” “Do we eat the meringue?” Only, I might have gone overboard with the “generous” salting of the inside. You know I’m a very literal person, but I was also still using the coarse sea salt instead of just finely ground. Still turned out very good! Thanks Steph!
    Oh, and next time, I’m definitely going to have to prepare an angel foodcake first, because beating those egg whites really put me in the mood for it!

  7. Stephanie says:

    Em, so glad you made this! Isn’t it incredibly easy? As for salting the inside, I suppose “generous” is relative. With the entire outside of the fish being salted, a nice sprinkling inside is probably just enough.

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