A Trip To Ston & Fish Baked In Salt Crust
I always find it particularly hard to write about the places I’ve visited. Traveling is such a personal thing for me. I always get emotionally involved and find it almost impossible to be objective. While I try to avoid the usual cheesy and overemotional rants about how awesome everything was, I also don’t want to sound like a travel guide and bore you to death with factography. So, I figured it’s probably best not to say much and let you get your own impressions of Ston through some of the photos I took along the way.
If you’ve read one of my earlier posts on discovering the Croatian coast, you probably remember I mentioned Ston, a small town about 50 km north-west of Dubrovnik, well known for it’s medieval walls that circle the town itself. Ston is not a posh tourist destination, it has no big resorts or luxury hotels. Instead, it offers a unique history that reaches back as far as the 14th century, impressive old architecture and ancient stone houses, good restaurants and beautiful food. Ston is the town of good quality sea salt and world renown oysters. What more could you wish for?
The Ston saltworks are the oldest preserved saltworks in Europe, and possibly in the world. The saltworks are still active today and, more importantly, the production method has not changed at all throughout the centuries. The salt production in Ston has remained faithful to the tradition and uses only healthy ecological methods, which results in the excellent quality of the Ston sea salt. Our host and owner of the saltworks, Mr. Svetan Pejić, told us the story and history of salt production and salt trade in his unique theatrical manner which clearly shows his passion and devotion to the saltworks and their tradition, as well as his belief in the bright future.
The Dalmatian coast has a very long history of mariculture. Ston, and the area surrounding it, is not an exception. Because of its clean water with the perfect salinity level, Mali Ston Bay is an exceptional environment for oyster and mussel farming. It has, in fact, been well-known for oyster cultivation since the Roman times. The European Flat Oyster (Ostrea edulis) from Mali Ston Bay has made this region world-famous when it was awarded Grand Prix and the Gold Medal in the 1936 World Exposition in London.
Ston is not your average seaside resort. It’s quite small and charming but has many unique and unusual things to offer. One of them is an array of great restaurants that serve beautiful and simple sea food paired with seasonal local ingredients and wonderful wines from the Pelješac peninsula. Our host wanted to make sure we experience Ston to the fullest so our next stop was Vila Koruna, a hotel and restaurant owned by Mr. Pejić and his family. When the food started coming I thought I died and went to heaven. Seriously.
First off, oysters and champagne. Drizzled with a few drops of lemon juice and eaten with your fingers, oysters must be the purest and the most wonderful form of food on Earth. Alongside oysters we we also served sea figs, also known as sea violets or sea eggs. It is a shellfish mainly found in the Mediterranean sea. It is eaten raw and is appreciated for its powerful iodized flavor which is not suitable to all palates, including mine. I guess it’s an acquired taste. Next came creamy mussel soup, beautiful, subtle and silky. Finished off with a pinch of cracked black pepper, it just sings in your mouth.
Shellfish cooked in white wine and garlic were served next. It is a very traditional way of cooking all sorts of shelfish, skampi and prawns in Dalmatia. The shear simplicity of the sauce elevates the taste of shells while a distant hum of garlic tones down the acidity of wine and seasons the sauce quite beautifully. What gives this sauce charater are breadcrumbs that are used as a thickening agent in the sauce. This type of sauce is known as buzara in Dalmatia. Next came black risotto followed by green tagliatelle in a creamy skampi sauce. They were both magnificent.
However, the absolute hero of the whole meal was the last course. A spectacular sea bass baked in salt crust served with small and succulent grilled green peppers (the locals call the poveruni) and simple greens dressed with some lemon juice and olive oil. A dish that celebrates the sea with all its natural resources and an incredibly clever way of marrying two of Ston’s most famous products – good quality sea salt and fresh sea food.
This method of preparing fish is stupidly simple but absolutely brilliant. The salt encloses the fish completely, flavoring it and sealing in the moisture, making the flesh succulent and silky. It also makes a highly dramatic presentation, so keep that in mind the next time you have company over for dinner. I made this dish two times since we got back home and we just can’t get enough of it. The only trick is to use good quality sea salt (I brought some from Ston) and the freshest fish you can find. And that’s about it.
Sea Bass Baked in Salt Crust
2 lemon slices
2 rosemary springs
1 – 1.2 kg coarse sea salt
100 – 120ml water
Dry the fish with kitchen paper and stuff the body cavity of each fish with one lemon slice and rosemary sprig. Combine salt and water and mix thoroughly. This will help to form a crust. Place a layer of wet sea salt (about 1/3) in the bottom of a roasting tin large enough to hold the fish comfortably. Lay the fish on top of the salt, then cover with the remaining sea salt. The fish should be completely enclosed by the salt. You can wrap each fish separately in its own crust or lay them next to each other and cover them together.
Place the roasting pan in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and let the fish rest for 5 minutes. Break the salt crust with knife. Using a pastry brush, remove the salt crystals from the surface of the fish and from around the fish. Serve with lemon wedges.
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