Salt baked sea bass with pesto and crispy pancetta pasta

Baking sea bass in a crust of salt keeps the fish beautifully moist and really enhances its flavour.

Ingredients

For the sea bass
  • 2kg/4lb 8oz sea bass, scaled, gutted and fins removed
  • 2kg/4lb 8oz fine table salt
  • 350g/12oz egg white
For the pasta
  • 12 thin slices pancetta
  • 500g/1lb 2oz fresh pasta
  • 60g/2¼oz basil leaves, plus an extra handful to garnish
  • 50g/2oz toasted pine nuts
  • 50g/2oz parmesan, freshly grated
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 125-75ml/4-6fl oz extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation method

  1. For the sea bass, preheat the oven to 210C/425F/Gas 7.

  2. Place the sea bass onto a large baking tray. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed. Place the salt into a large bowl and gradually add the egg white, mixing well until you achieve the consistency of wet sand. Pour the mixture over the sea bass and smooth to cover totally.

  3. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden-brown and the bass is cooked (check by inserting a knife into the thick part of the flesh and ensuring that the fish has reached 38C/100F).

  4. Meanwhile for the pasta, heat a frying pan until hot. Add the pancetta and cook until crispy. Drain onto kitchen paper, reserving the cooking fat.

  5. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions then drain and place back into the cooking pan with a little of the cooking water.

  6. To make the pesto, place the basil, pine nuts, parmesan and garlic into a food processor or pestle and mortar, and blend or pound to a fine purée. Add the olive oil and mix once more.

  7. Toss the pasta with the pesto, crumble in the fried pancetta and add a little of the cooking fat, to taste. Add most of the remaining basil leaves and toss to combine. Season to taste with a little salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.

  8. To serve, crack the salt coating on the sea bass and discard, taking care to lift off the skin of the sea bass. Spoon the pasta into serving bowls and top with a piece of sea bass. Finish with a scattering of basil leaves and drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

James Martin recipes from Saturday Kitchen

Less than 30 mins preparation time

30 mins to 1 hour cooking time

Serves 4-6

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