Preserving fish using the dry-salt method is still in current use in many places due to the wonderful flavor it provides. Throughout history, salted fish was a main staple in multiple cultures because it cost less than meat. The use of salt allowed the fish to be stored for long periods of time, which was especially helpful to sailors at sea. In the modern world, this simple, low-cost process can be combined with other preservation techniques, such as smoking and drying.
<strong>How to Salt</strong>
The process is dry-salting is simple and begins with the fish being washed, cleaned and gutted. It is then packed in a salt layer in order to create a brine with the natural juices. Salt helps to preserve the fish in the short term by slowing down bacterial growth that leads to rot and spoilage.
For cooking at home, the salting method works best with small fish, such as herring and anchovy. Larger fish can be used, but the process can take up to seven days. The longer cure time will produce richer flavors.
The quality of the salt used and the total curing time is very important when preserving fish. The desired result is a fish that presents as a bit resinous without being very dry. Any sign of discoloration, stringiness or salt crystals means the fish was not cured properly.
<strong>How to Desalt</strong>
A cured fish may be desalted by washing it and putting it in a colander that has been placed in a bowl of cold water. The fish should have its skin side up and be completely submerged. Soaking time should be at least 24 hours for a whole fish and up to 12 hours for fillets or smaller pieces. Desalting may take longer depending on the amount of salt that was used in the curing process.
Herring and anchovies may be desalted by using milk instead of water.
<strong>How to Use Salted Fish</strong>
Cod is used most often in the dry-salt preservation method. Used in Spanish, Portuguese and French dishes, salted cod is in such demand that it can be found in specialty shops in those countries. Salted cod served raw is considered to be a delicacy like smoked salmon and after desalting, it is served with potatoes and a variety of sauces. Since cod has been overfished, other white fishes such as whiting, haddock, coley and hake can used as a substitute with a similar flavor.
Another popular way to cook salted fish is by dipping it in batter and deep-frying it. Anchovies are frequently used a pizza topping and as a base for pasta sauces.
Preserving fish using a dry-salt method may be considered old world, but it still has many practical uses in today’s cooking.