Salt-baked wild bream with orange and basil

Salt-baked wild bream with orange and basil

Grill Smoke BBQ
Kris Kirkham

Baking fish, or indeed meat, in a salt crust is an age-old cooking method that’s mainly practised in Spain and Italy. Don’t be concerned about saltiness; the salt crust gently seasons the fish during the cooking, imparting a surprising sweetness. The salt cocoon also protects the fish from fierce direct heat while gently steaming it in its own self-contained ‘oven’.

This is a dead-cert knockout dish for a dinner party. For maximum impact, carry the bream in its salt jacket to the table and crack open the crust, releasing the fragrant, heady aromas of the orange and basil, and revealing perfectly cooked, moist fish. Serve with Italian-style seasonal greens and Creamy white polenta.


Quantity Ingredient
2 large sea bream, gutted and scaled
800g coarse sea salt
1 small orange
1/2 bunch basil


  1. First make the salt crust by mixing the salt with a tablespoon of water to loosen. Gradually add more water – up to 3½ tablespoons altogether – until the consistency of the salt is something like wet-ish sand. You should be able to press the salt together in your hand and it will hold its shape.
  2. Slice the orange into rounds and then cut each round in half to create semi-circles. Stuff these into the cavities of the bream, just below the head, then rip up the basil and stuff this into the cavities too. Use the cocktail sticks to skewer the cavities closed.
  3. Take a baking tray large enough to hold the fish and spread about one third of the salt crust over the tray. Sit the bream on top, then cover the top and sides of the fish with the rest of the salt crust, leaving their tails and mouths exposed. It’s very important that the main body of the fish – the part you’ll be eating – is completely sealed in the salt crust to ensure it cooks properly: check it carefully, patting the crust around the fish. The fish is now ready to cook, but can be safely left in the fridge up to 4 hours before cooking.
  4. Light the barbecue and set for direct/indirect cooking. Wait until the temperature inside the barbecue reaches 170–175°C; (regulate with the vents, if needed), then place the tray in the indirect heat zone and close the lid. Cook for 25 minutes or until the salt crust is a pale golden brown and the internal temperature of the fish reaches 50°C – use a temperature probe to pierce through the salt crust and check this. Remove the tray from the barbecue and leave the fish to rest for 5 minutes – it will continue to cook in the salt crust, so it’s important to take it off the grill while it’s still slightly under-cooked.
  5. To serve, carry the tray to the table and, using a spoon or small knife, pull away the salt crust, starting from the head. The crust should come away easily, pulling the skin off with it; if the skin doesn’t come off with the crust, just scrape it off. Once you’ve eaten the top half of the bream, pull out the central bone to expose the rest of the flesh. Just be careful not to eat any of the salt crust!


  • You’ll also need 6 cocktail sticks and a temperature probe.
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