Whole Red Emperor Baked in a Salt Dough

A salt dough crust is the perfect way to cook a whole large fish, as the fish steams in its own juices sealed inside the dough giving a moist, tender result. It can even be cooked covered in the coals of a campfire and kept warm inside the dough for quite awhile before it’s opened. The dough seasons the fish, giving it a lovely salty flavour which marries well with a neutral-flavoured side dish such as boiled baby potatoes or steamed rice and a green salad with a sharp vinaigrette dressing.


1 x 3.5kg Red Emperor, scaled, gilled and gutted
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 lemon, sliced 
1 brown onion, sliced
6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley (see notes)
6 sprigs dill (see notes)
Steamed baby potatoes, to serve
Green salad with vinaigrette dressing, to serve
Salt Dough
1.5kg flour
1.2kg table salt
1.5 litres water


Make the Salt Dough: combine the flour and salt in a large bowl. Add ¾ of the water and mix well, if it is too dry, add extra water to bring the dough together, it should be quite firm. Tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. 

Preheat the oven to 210°C. 

Lightly flour the bench and roll out the dough to a 1cm-thick rectangle. 

Rinse the belly cavity of the fish and pat dry with paper towel. Sprinkle cavity well with pepper and place lemon, onion, parsley and dill inside. Place the fish in the centre of the dough and wrap it up, pinching together any cracks or seams. 

Place on a baking paper-lined baking tray and cook for about 40 minutes, until the pastry has set and begun to colour. Remove from oven and rest in a warm place for at least 45 minutes. 

Break open the dough at the table and gently spoon the fish onto plates. Serve with steamed potatoes and a green salad.


The dough can be prepared up to a week in advance and kept wrapped and refrigerated. Use whatever green herbs you like to stuff the belly cavity.

Alternative species:

Emperors, Goldband Snapper, Pearl Perch, Snapper.

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