Salt-baked wild sea bass with saffron aioli

Serves 6
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For the aioli

3 organic free-range egg yolks
A pinch of salt
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

The juice of one lemon

20 strands saffron
220ml/7floz extra-virgin olive oil

For the fish

1 wild sea bass, gutted but scales left on
1 lemon
A few sprigs wild marjoram
2 branches wild fennel
6kg/12lb very coarse-grain rock salt
500ml/17floz water

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas7. Place the egg yolks in a bowl, add a pinch of salt, the crushed garlic and the lemon juice and whisk to combine. Place the saffron threads in a tablespoon of warm water and soak to soften.

Pour the oil over the yolks, as slowly as you possibly can, whisking continuously as you do so (sometimes it is easier to get someone to pour the oil for you while you whisk, or easier still, make the aioli in a blender. Continue to whisk until all the oil is incorporated – you should end up with a thick, unctuous, garlicky mayonnaise. Stir in the soaked saffron including the water that the strands were steeped in.

For the fish, wash and pat dry the sea bass. Slice the lemon into pinwheels and insert into the cavity of the fish. Add the marjoram and fennel fronds.

Place the salt in a bowl and add the water. Mix together with your hands, it should be the consistency of wet sand.

You will need a roasting tray large enough to hold the whole fish. Lay half of the wet salt on the base of the tray, place the fish on top and cover with the rest of the salt moulding it into the body of the fish (a bit like if you are burying someone in the sand at the beach). You want to seal the fish in as snugly as possible so that it steams within its salt case.

Place in the hot oven and roast for 15 minutes or until the fish is hot to the bone (you can test this by inserting a sharp knife into the thickest part of the fish – if the point of the knife is warm the fish is cooked through).

Remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes; the salt will have set hard and you will need to crack it open with the blunt end of a knife.

Gently peel off the skin, the fish underneath will be wonderfully succulent. Serve with the saffron aioli and a large wedge of lemon.

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