Beaches and summers go together during vacation time. My children and I spend many memorable holy weeks at the Bacnotan Vacation house in La Union. I had to rack my brains to come up with different ways to cook fish which was fresh and abundant in this area.

If you enjoy going to the beach and buying freshly caught fish directly from the fishermen, you can make this very simple dish and actually feed the whole gang. The fish must be from the sea, and have thick scales. The fish I used was the El Dorado (it was about 2 kilos plus and 24-inches long). Straight from the fishing banca (boat), the El Dorado shimmered like gold – it had a golden stripe on its back. But another time, when I bought it from the fish market, the gold seemed to have faded away. So try it straight from the sea, it is much better.

There is no need to scale or gut the fish. Just rinse the whole fish with water and pat dry.

To cook the fish in the rough without an oven (remember you’re on holidays), you’ll need some stones or 3 hollow cement blocks, a piece of G.I. sheet, and about 2 gallons (32 cups) of salt. Build a makeshift barbecue pit by placing the G.I. sheet (flat type) over the stones or hollow blocks. Spread evenly, around 16 cups of salt on G.I sheet, to follow the contour of the fish. Lay the fish firmly in the center of the salt, then with the other 16 cups of salt, cover the entire fish with 1/2-inch to 1 inch thick crust of salt.

Start a charcoal fire under the G.I sheet. Cook the fish until the salt is firm enough to knock on. You can use a wooden spoon to tap on the salt and when the sound is hollow, the fish is cooked.

To oven-bake the fish, set the oven temperature to 350ºF or 180ºC and bake the fish till the crust of salt is firm enough to knock on.

The fish retains its natural flavour and cooks in its own juice. The salt does not penetrate the fish.
Carefully remove the salt crust with a knife and turner. Do not cut the fish open until all the salt has been removed. When all the salt has been removed, use a knife and fork to remove the skin.

Serve the fish with garlic fried rice and any of the following sauces for dipping.

Soy Sauce Dip:
Mix together the following:
1 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 tablespoons calamansi juice or lemon juice
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon finely crushed garlic
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Vinegar Dip:
Mix together the following:
1 cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon chopped bird eye chili (siling labuyo)
1 tablespoon finely crushed garlic

There is another method to the salt crust that you place over and under the fish.
Start off with beating an egg white and slowly incorporate the salt until you make a thick paste. Use the paste to line and cover the whole fish. This is more tedious process but also uses less salt than the previous method.