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Preserving Fish (Part 1) - Drying, Salting, Jerky

Some of the best memories I have from my childhood are the occasional trips to the North Sea. We would visit the port of Ostende (Belgium city ) and spend the day walking along the beach. I was always fascinated by the ships arriving and unloading cases of various fish that were still alive. There was a small fish market on the dock and my parents would relish into buying fresh, live fish - usually flounders.

 

One of my special treats was dried salted fish. I know it's unusual but as a kid, but I would just devore the stuff and have a blast while doing it.

 

So after dehydrating tons of stuff and making lots of Jerky, I decided to give fish another try. The last time I did it was in 1998 where I simply salted the fish for a couple of weeks (turned out awesome too).

 

This time I chose flounder and cod. Cod is very traditional for salting/drying fish. Usually for flounder you use the whole fish but I could also get filets at the local store.

 

The conventional time for salting and drying where I come from is at least a couple of weeks or more. The fish are placed in layers in a container with a lot of salt and pretty much left there until ready then dried outside (depending on the temperature/humidity). I'm not going into details right now because it's one of my projects and I'll probably post a step by step about on this site.

 

My fishy goal was to be able to do it in a day using my dehydrator, so it was a new experiment. I know it sounds simple but, my gosh, finding the simple procedures wasn't easy. The answer finally came from Manilla.

 

Their method is actually quite simple -

 

1. Wash the fish thoroughly with clean water.

 

2. Open the fish, remove the gills and internal organs. Leave the skin intact. Wash fish again thoroughly.

 

3. Prepare the brine solution (one cup of salt for one gallon of water)

 

4. Soak the fish in brine solution for 30 minutes to one hour. (some recipes ask for 30 mins and others for one hour, my assumption is that a larger fish would require longer brining)

 

5. Drain the salted fish and rinse it to remove excess salt.

 

6. Arrange or lay fish in wire screen mesh and dry in the sun for 2 to 3 days (well, in my case I use the dehydrator)

 

7. Let the dried fish cool, seal it and store at room temperature.

 

 

I basically did the above and placed the filets in a brine for a bit more than 30 minutes.

 

Some traditional methods have one more step (after step five above), it consist of coating the fish with coarse salt after rinsing it. You basically press the fish in the salt (on both sides if you just use filets) and then dry it. You can also add various spices if you want. You basically create a salt rub. On my side, I used out pre-mixed wild spices blend (a blend of around 9 different aromatic plants that we find in nature such as white sage, California Bay Leaves, Peppertree, etc...)

 

You end up with something like this:

 

 

Salted fish, dehydrated fish, cooking with salted fish, wild preservation

 

 

 

I tried both methods so I had 2 filets with just the brine and 2 filets with brine and the salt rub.

 

I took me around 5-6 hrs in the dehydrator (the cod took a bit longer) at around 140 degrees. Depending of the thickness of the fish it may take less or longer.

 

The result was interesting.

 

Of course, the goal is to be able to re-use the fish. In the old days when they were using dry fish, they had to soak the fish in water for a considerable amount of time (ranging from hours to days depending on the size of the fish). Trying to eat the fish without soaking is pretty much like trying to eat salt. Don't take me wrong, as I said earlier some salted fishes are actually quite good and as a kid it was one of my favorite treat when doing a trip to the sea but this kind of salted fish was done with other method (whole dish placed in layers for 2 weeks, etc...). By the way, I also don't advice to eat salted fish without proper soaking to remove the salt, too much salt isn't healthy.

 

Anyway, with the simple method I was using, the fish was unedible as is for sure. It basically tasted like pure salt with a strong fish aroma/taste.

 

 

In both methods, the flounder filets basically became very stiff/dry and crumbling. I couldn't see how they could be used in a dish when rehydrated but I had my "Eureka!" moment. I don't like to waste anything and always try to find interesting uses for anything I do.

 

The crumbled the flounder filets, which was extremely easy to do and using a grinder made a powder out of it. What do you know! Now I had some wonderful "Fish Salt" which I can use in various dishes and soups to add some flavor.

 

This is the "Fish Salt" I ended up with:

 

Making fish salt, making dashi, soup stock with fish, preserving fish

 

And yes, you CAN use it to add wonderful flavors as I did in this soup made with dehydrated vegetables.

 

Making soup with dehydrated vegetables

 

 

The fish salt made a very nice Japanese-style soup stock (Dashi). Actually the soup stock was made by using dry kelp and the fish salt instead of the algae and fermented tuna flakes (Bonito) traditionally used. If you're interested in making Dashi, here is a good link.

 

The cod filets were in much better shape, simply due to the thickness of the fish. I was able to remove most of the salt soaking it for a couple of hours. In fact I used some of the salted cod in a soup without prior soaking and it was just delicious.

 

Making the fish jerky was very much straightforward. I soaked the fish filets for 4 hrs (in the fridge) in a mixture of my homemade mugwort beer and soy sauce (half of each). Added some garlic powder, California bay leaves, pepper and thyme.

 

Traditional methods of preservation - fish jerky

 

After 4 hrs, I placed the filets in the dehydrator. It took around 4 hrs at 140 degrees to make the fish jerky.

 

My recipe was so-so (it's much better with meat) but it was quite good nevertheless. Next time, I'll experiment a bit more and find a better recipe for fish jerky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Salted fish, dehydrated fish, cooking with salted fish, wild preservation