Salted Fish

Before refrigeration, salt was the primary method to preserve fish. Salting allowed primitive civilizations to catch bountiful amounts of fish during times of plenty and save the surplus for later consumption. It also allowed them to trade with their inland neighbors who might not have the ability to catch their own fish. Without a cooling system, fresh fish would spoil quickly during long overland trips at anytime other than dead of winter. However, transporting fresh fish in the dead of winter was highly unlikely. In those days, most people could not travel or catch fish during the winter season.

Salted fish and other meats could be partially credited with changing the world in distant history. No longer were people bound to finding fresh protein sources on a daily basis. They could now preserve their food and make it easily to take with them. This opened the door for increased traveling and exploration. The Vikings were one of the earliest people to preserve fish with salt. This was one thing that helped them become great explorers and traders.

Now considered a delicacy, salted fish is still enjoyed in many parts of the world. You can find it in many delis and supermarkets, especially around Lent or Christmas. Once an inexpensive staple, overfishing in the North Atlantic, the primary fishing ground for cod and herring, has made salted fish a rarer commodity and driven the price skyward.

It’s not difficult to salt your own fish although it might be a challenge to find a supply of the right kind of fish. It’s best to use a smaller size ocean fish like code, herring, or mackerel. On the east coast of the United States, the herring “run” upstream during the spring to spawn. At that point in time, it’s easy to catch a huge supply. You don’t even need bait; you simply use a fishing pole with a hook. You jig it up and down in the water and the supply is so thick that you snag them.

Once you have a quantity of fish, you need to clean them. Scale them as you normally would. It’s best to cut off the heads, but the tails can stay on. Slit their bellies from tail to head and remove all of the insides. Make sure that you remove all of the blood vessel that runs along the spine. Wash the fish thoroughly to remove any remaining blood.

The easiest container for salting fish is a plastic bucket with a lid. They are easy to find in most hardware stores in two or five gallon sizes and only cost a few dollars. You can use this alone or line it with a garbage bag. The garbage bag is good for easy re-use of the bucket, but many people disagree with the idea because garbage bags are not food grade material.

Once you have the fish clean and the container prepared, it’s time to start salting your fish. Some people use table salt while others prefer coarser salt such as sea salt or kosher salt. Either will work. You want to put down a layer of salt, then a layer of fish. Prior to placing a fish in the bucket, fill the inside with salt. You should make sure that the entire surface of the inside of the fish is covered, but you don’t have to overfill it. Repeat layers of salt and fish until your bucket is full. If using the garbage bag, fold it down over the last layer of salt. Place the lid securely on the bucket and store it in an area that’s dry and cool. The fish can be used as soon as a few weeks or will keep for years.

Prior to cooking your fish, soak them. The longer they soak, the less salty they will be when eaten. Some people prefer a more salty fish and some people like them without hardly any salty taste. You probably will not be able to eliminate all of the salt no matter how long you soak them.