The main problem with our food is that if we do not eat it fast enough it goes bad. The time when it goes bad differs, but in the end, everything turns inedible. Except maybe my Lembas (or Lembas 2.0). Anyway, how to prolong the edibility of our food is an eternal quest but today it is less known to ordinary people who buy almost everything in supermarkets.
I also had practically no experience with food preservation so I wanted to do some experimenting in this way. I already prepared salt from seawater, so the logical extension was to use this salt in the preservation of other gifts from the sea. Salt is a great agent for food preservation since it takes up water and thus prevents microbe growth. No wonder that salt has been used for preservation since the beginning of civilization.
Preparing the salted fish
First I caught and cleaned a small fish. Next, I removed the bones and separated the fish in two parts. I also removed the sķin from one part of the fish. The skin might turn really hard or gummy during the salting and drying process and thus decided to do test that. The skin could not be removed as easily as with the fried fish, so I lost some meat in the process. It is definitely much easier to leave the skin.
Salting the fish
The salting was straightforward – I put the fish meat directly into salt. Since the fish was fresh, some salt dissolved, but eventually, all the meat was covered in thick layer of big salt crystals. Moisture was still visible between the crystals, but this was expected. I left the salted meat in the sun for one day. On the next day, the meat looked dried, no visible moisture just dry salt crystals.
Big salt crystals cold now be easily removed from the fish meat by rubbing. A thin layer of fine crystals remained on the surface and the meat still felt soft, indicating that it was not yet completely dried. After three more days in the sun the consistency changed, now the fish meat was still covered by fine crystals, but completely hard. The fine layer of crystals could not be removed since it was practically fused with the meat.
Initially, I had some fear that stray cats might take interest in my fish drying in the sun. Although they were around and the fish did have some smell, they left it untouched. Apparently, the salt was a good protection against larger animals and gave me hope that this will be the same for the microscopic ones.
Once the meat was hard with no noticeable moisture (in my case 3 days), the drying was finished. When the slices were cut, small salt crystals could be seen throughout the whole fish. Apparently dissolved salt went through the whole fish – a good prediction for long-term storage. The slices smelled of fish, but the taste was overpoweringly salty. It actually burned in the mouth from all the salt – no wonder that even cats could not eat it. Since there was clearly no direct way to consume the dried fish I tried some simple recipes.
Simple salted fish recipes
Fresh cream and salted fish sandwich
The first try was something simple – a sandwich. White bread, cream cheese, tomatoes and thin slices of salted fish. The creaminess of the cheese and freshness of the tomatoes should, in theory, counterbalance the strong saltiness of the fish. In practice it worked even better – firstly I used the fish in spice quantities but ended up adding a lot more since it was soo good. There was no overpowering salty taste and surprisingly, a pleasant fish taste developed beside the cheese and tomatoes. Definitely a success and a nice way to enjoy salted fish.
Tomato and aubergine lasagne
Next was something more complex – tomato and eggplant lasagne. To be honest, this is not a super difficult dish but it is great for a light, fresh summer dinner with hints of the seaside. Layers of tomato slices and peeled, salted eggplants slices are alternated with mozzarella slices in a pan. The final layer should be tomatoes and eggplants, which are abundantly covered with grated Parmigiano, olives, basil and thin slices of salted fish. Bake in the oven until the top layer of cheese turns brownish.
Again, I was unsure about the quantity, therefore, I used the salted fish sparingly. And as with the sandwich, it later showed that I should use a lot more. Apparently, the saltiness is lost in the final dishes, but the fish taste remains or is even more pronounced. And this taste adds additional complexity to the dish, making it richer and further expanding the summer evening feeling. Definitely a success.
Image credit: Amazing food