The upstate New York workshop I held this past October was more fun than I could have imagined…I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I enjoyed teaching, cooking, shooting, and styling with all the guests. So, we decided to make these adventures a regular occurrence, and we’ve created First We Eat, a series of photography workshops & adventures with artisanal & delicious homemade dishes at every meal and numerous food-related outings. The name comes from a quote by M.F.K. Fisher that goes “First we eat, then we do everything else”, which pretty much says it all. Styling it, shooting it, cooking it, growing it, catching it, it always come down to food and good eatin’. And today we’re opening registration for our next workshop in Asheville, North Carolina, where the delightfully enthusiastic and extremely talented baker, Molly Yeh of My Name is Yeh, will be joining us! The workshop takes place March 6th-9th in a rustic lodge nestled amongst the foothills of Cold Mountain with a picturesque old red barn. We’ll be surrounded by 200 acres of forest with a private babbling creek running near the house. The workshop will cover photography, plating, styling, and will also include an afternoon fly fishing lesson on the property. (Yes, we will cook what we catch!) All meals are included in the workshop.
Guests will arrive in Asheville the morning of Friday March 6th for a hearty breakfast, followed by photography lessons and an outing to local antique shops for prop sourcing. The following day will be spent styling and shooting, with a fly fishing lesson in the afternoon. Sunday will include more hands-on styling and shooting with a lesson on post-processing images in Lightroom. Sunday’s farewell dinner will be hosted by Jacob Boehm from Snap Pea Catering and will include the finest local foods Asheville has to offer. Monday morning will begin with a warm southern breakfast and we’ll bid our goodbyes as everyone heads home by 10 am. We’d love to have you join us on this adventure, you can register via the link below [EDIT: We’re all sold out!]
And now, to the fish! This was my very first time cooking a whole fish, and it was quite the adventure in and of itself. I learned how to gut and scale it, which were strangely much easier and quicker processes than I thought they’d be, although the scaling process does leave you with fish scales pretty much everywhere (I kept finding them in my hair hours later), but they look really neat and shiny so that kind of makes up for it. Some people gut the fish by removing the head which pretty much takes everything out with it, but I wanted to keep the head on, so I made a slit down the belly and a slit behind each of the gills and was able to pull everything out in one foul swoop. Once you open the fish up and peek inside of it, it’s pretty easy to tell which is the filet part and which should be taken out, since the filets are tightly sealed against the fish’s skin and the innards are just hanging around loose inside the fish. And scaling the fish just involves vigorously scraping the backside (dull side) of the knife against the grain of the scales until they all pop off, (which they do with enthusiasm!), and it’s best to do the scaling at the bottom of a deep sink to minimize the scale spray area.
I decided to try cooking it in a salt mound which I’d seen done once before, and when I read up on it the process was even more appealing. So basically, you mix some egg whites and olive oil with a lot of kosher salt (I got a big box of it at a fancy food store for $5, so its pretty affordable wherever) until you get a texture similar to wet sand. You pat some of it out on a baking sheet, place the fish on top of it, and pat the rest of it around the fish, sealing in the main body with salt on all sides. Then you roast the fish in the oven at high heat and the salt hardens and seals in all the moisture, while at the same time slowly seasoning the fish. And if you stuff the cavity of the fish it helps seal in the flavor of the stuffing, too. I used fresh ginger, garlic, thyme, olive oil, and lemon, which went perfectly with the fluffy white fish. It came out so buttery, rich, moist, and flakey that I don’t know if I’ll ever want to prepare fish any other way again. And the presentation is almost as good as the flavor…
Salt Baked Sea Bass
- 2 lb sea bass
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 5 sprigs fresh thyme
- 4 thin lemon slices
- 1- inch piece ginger minced
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 3 cups salt
- 4 egg whites
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Begin to gut the fish by making an incision along the belly, from under the chin of the fish to about 3 inches away from the tail. Make another incision on one side of the fish about an inch behind the gills, angling your knife so that the tip is pointing more towards the head of the fish than the tail. Repeat on the other side. (This youtube video is especially helpful to watch if you've never cleaned/scaled a fish before.) Reach in and pull out the innards, discarding them.
- To scale the fish, place a cutting board in the bottom of a deep sink and place the fish on it (this helps keep the scales relatively contained to the sink area as they fly off the fish). Use the dull backside of the knife to vigorously scrape against the grain of the scales in long fluid motions until the scales are removed. Rinse the fish to remove any stray scales and pat it dry.
- Rub down the inside of the bass with the salt, pepper, 1 teaspoon of fresh thyme, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Stuff the fish with the thyme sprigs, lemons, ginger, and garlic. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the salt mound.
- To prepare the salt, beat the egg whites in a large bowl until they hold soft peaks. Fold in the salt, cilantro, and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil until completely combined and the texture resembles wet sand.
- Spread out some of the salt mixture onto a baking sheet so that it is roughly the length and width of the bass. Uncover the bass and place it on the mound. Pack the salt mixture around the fish to seal in the moisture. Use a thin sharp knife to poke a hole through the salt mound and into the thickest part of the fish (usually near the head) to allow steam to escape. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into the fish reads at leafs 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Crack the salt mound with the back of a spoon and break it off in large chunks, discarding it. Peel the skin off of the bass and cut out the cooked filets, discarding the skin, spine, and bones. Serve immediately.