Sunday, October 17, 2010

Worth Her Salt? Parshat Vayeyra

In this week's portion, Parshat Vayeyra, the merits of transparency are grappled with. God has a debate with Himself and some angels as to whether or not He should alert Abraham to His plan to destroy the wicked city of Sdom. On the one hand, God has already made up His mind, but on the other hand He is expecting a partnership from Abraham in creating a family/nation that will follow in God's ways. Shouldn't God show that He too can be a good partner with open communication?

So God tells Abraham His plans, and immediately Abraham protests on the grounds of justice. He questions; "God can you really destroy a whole city if there are some good people still to be found in it?" And therein begins the famous bargaining between God and Abraham over the city of Sdom.

"If I find 50 good people, I'll spare the city."
"Do it for 45"
Back and forth until they have gotten to ten.
"Can't you find just ten good people in that God forsaken place?"
And it's settled- if there are ten good people in Sdom, the city will be spared.

But as the narrative continues it's clear that there aren't even ten decent people there, save Lot and has family (even they become questionable, but they've got protectsia by being related to Abraham). They are spared and get to leave the city before its fiery destruction. They are commanded to flee and not turn to look back at Sdom. But Mrs. Lot can't help herself and turns around to catch one last glance of her hometown. She immediately turns into a pillar of salt.

Fish baked in a crust of salt has long been a marvel to me. I've sen it on the pages of food magazines and in scenes of TV food shows, but it has yet to appear in my kitchen or be served on our table. I've had it in mind to try this dish for this particular parsha for many months, delighted with the tie in with Lot's wife in the narrative. I'm excited to finally give it a try. I'll be making my way to the local fish monger to buy a whole fish. I've typically seen red snapper prepared this way, but they're on the fish to avoid list.

I found a great recipe in one of my mother's a cookbook's for sea bass in a salr crust and see that some options look like they get the
green light. The fish cavity gets stuffed with lemons, garlic and herbs and then thick sea salt is whipped with eggs whites and spread in an even layer on the whole fish, nestled into a baking dish. The salt forms a hard crust which insulates the fish as it bakes, keeping it moist and flavorful, and is broken away before serving.

Now, in the spirit of transparency I want to share with you that in another two weeks this blog will come full circle and we'll reach the portion that first started Double Portion last year - Parshat Toldot. I'm trying to decide whether I will continue blogging once I reach that point and come up with new recipes for the weeks I have already covered or if I'll take a break to focus on the cookbook based on the blog. I'd love to hear your opinions in the comments here - I've got two weeks to make a decision so let me know what you think. Challenge me, debate, bargain!

One last thing before the recipe. Today is the Yartzeit (the Jewish anniversary of someone's
passing) of my paternal grandmother, Ethel Radel, who I am named for. I never met her but have several pieces of jewelry that belonged to her that I treasure as much as I treasure snippets of her family history (which my father insists that I most often revise in some way).

Some things that I remember hearing (and double checked with my dad) was that she was an incredible cook - making gefilte fish and ground horseradish from scratch to self cater my father's bar mitzvah luncheon in their home. She was very supportive of my father's desire to be an artist, while the rest of the family would have preferred for him to go into the typical Jewish male professions. I'm grateful for those things and more that she did for those who came before me. This blog post is dedicated to her, a woman most certainly worth her salt.

Thank you to Sam for all the photos this week.

Salt Encrusted Fish
Adapted from Feasting on Fish, by Louise Pickford

4 lb whole striped bass, scaled and cleaned
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1 lemon, scrubbed and thinly sliced
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled
salt and pepper
1 lb sea salt
4 egg whites
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Stuff the inside of the fish with the herbs, lemon slices, salt and pepper and garlic cloves.

Whisk the egg whites in a bowl until frothy and then add the salt and mix well.

Oil a glass or ceramic baking dish that the fish easily fits into (without leaving too much empty room in the dish). Carefully place the stuffed fish in the dish and spread the salt mixture over the top of the fish to completely coat the top and sides of the fish.

Bake the fish for 40 minutes so that the salt turns light brown. Let it rest for ten minutes outside of the oven and then break the salt crust open with a fork and knife. Remove all of the salt crust and serve the fish in slices.


  1. I made a similar recipe this week - salt-encrusted potatos. It was delish! The kids loved the hard "pillar" of salt that we cracked open at the table.
    I got the recipe from The Jerusalem Post 2007 - someone named Rena Rossner wrote a weekly article of recipes and the parsha. She was supposed to come out with a cookbook, but never did - not to discourage you, but you may want to try to contact her to find out what worked or didn't work.
    Melissa Rayman

  2. Hi, Elisha. A chef friend of ours visited us in Seattle a few years back and made a salt-encrusted fish (snapper, I think) for dinner. It was wonderful. Hope you'll keep posting here.

  3. Thanks for the advice Melissa, I'll try to pick Rena's brain. Your potatoes sound creative and delicious. Salt and potatoes- what could be better?

    Jess - I bet fish in Seattle tasted incredible. Happy Anniversary and thanks for all the encouragement over the last year plus!