Fish for Compliments: A salt crust is a simple showstopper

I had a revelation recently about seafood – it occurred to me that fish might be one of the few truly wild foods that we eat with any regularity in our culture. Seriously, the list of foods we obtain straight from the source, without any human meddling in the form of cultivation, pasteurization or irrigation is pretty brief. Unless you happen to be the Euell Gibbons sort, you probably haven’t spent much time lately foraging for wild mushrooms, collecting wild dandelion greens or hunting for fresh game. As a kid, fresh seafood was all I knew. Growing up in coastal New England, dining on locally harvested fish seemed an integral part of living by the sea – a delicious asset that I felt certain would last forever. In the summertime, we’d pile into the family car and my father would navigate us close to the water for a shore dinner at Rocky Point, where we’d devour steamed lobsters and shellfish. Tender, salty littlenecks and cherrystone clams dipped in melted butter, and the meaty, giant quahogs were chopped and deep-fried into my favorite doughy clam cakes and tossed into brothy, bacon-scented chowders. Eating fish wasn’t simply a warm weather indulgence. We ate fried fish and chips just about every Friday throughout the year, and celebrated each Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional, originally southern Italian holiday dinner that centered on lots of fish, shellfish and pasta. A few decades and a thousand miles inland later, wild seafood has become a precious commodity. I no longer live by an ocean, and certain species of fish, like the Atlantic cod and sole I loved when I was 10, have declined to near extinction because of overfishing, pollution and other environmental factors. It’s enough to make a girl a little misty-eyed! On the upside is that as consumers we’ve acquired a heightened sense of sustainability. Choosing farm-raised fish produced by sustainable aquaculture methods that don’t spread disease, pollute surrounding waters or depend on wild fish for feed is a step in the right direction. Rainbow trout takes well to aquaculture, particularly in Idaho, where farms raise the majority of the nation’s trout. Because of that state’s abundance of cold, pure water from natural aquifers and springs, trout farmers can produce plump, healthy fish without harm to the environment. And in terms of nutrition, farmed trout have an impressive profile with a generous ratio of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. An easy and tasty way to introduce fish to the seafood-avoiders in your life is to roast up some trout in a bed of salt. It’s a beautifully simple preparation, too: The fish steams under its salt crust, and the flaky flesh within remains succulently juicy, mild-tasting and, no, not at all salty. Plus there’s nothing like the “Wow!” you get when you bring a whole fish to the table under pounds of salt. I enjoy the flavors of lemon and fragrant herbs with the trout; they complement the delicate fish and remind me of my own ancient roots, somewhere off the coast of southern Italy. Karen Tedesco lives, cooks and blogs in Webster Groves. She owns DinnerStyle, a personal chef service.