Whole Fish Baked in Sea Salt


* 2 tablespoons coriander seeds

* 1 tablespoon black peppercorns

* 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

* 1 3-pound cleaned scaled whole fish (such as whitefish or salmon), fins removed

* 1 cup thinly sliced leek (white and pale green parts only)

* 1 lemon, thinly sliced into rounds

* 2 large egg whites

* 1/4 cup water

* 2 26.5-ounce boxes coarse sea salt (6 cups)

* Extra-virgin olive oil

* Lemon wedges

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Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 450°F. Line large rimmed baking sheet with foil, leaving generous overhang. Combine first 3 ingredients in small skillet. Toast spices over medium heat until beginning to pop, stirring frequently, about 9 minutes. Cool spices. Coarsely crush in mortar with pestle or in heavy resealable plastic bag with mallet.

Rinse fish inside and out; pat dry. Sprinkle all of spice mixture in fish cavity. Stuff with leek and lemon slices.

Whisk egg whites and water in large bowl to blend. Add salt. Stir until salt is evenly moistened. Spread 2 cups salt mixture in 4-inch-wide, 12-inch-long strip (or use more to equal length of fish) on prepared sheet. Place fish on salt. Cover fish completely with remaining salt mixture, pressing to seal.

Bake fish 25 minutes. Let stand in crust 10 minutes.

Using large knife, rap crust sharply to crack. Brush salt from fish. Cut into portions and serve, passing extra-virgin olive oil and lemon wedges alongside.

TEST-KITCHEN TIP: For 8 to 10 servings, cook a 4 1/2-pound fish instead (you'll need to use 3 egg whites, 6 tablespoons water, and 3 boxes of salt). Bake the fish for 35 minutes. Whatever size fish you use, be sure to preheat the oven for 30 minutes, using an oven thermometer for accuracy.