Despite modern refrigeration technologies, people still love the taste and versatility of dried fish. Drying, salting, and smoking fish helps preserve your extra catch for years and can be done without modern conveniences. Learning how to make dried fish will give you the ability to store tasty fish in your cellar or pantry through the lean winter months. Follow these tips to get started.
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What Exactly is Dried Fish?
Many variations of dry fish exist, including salted and dried, wet-salted, or freeze-dried.
Essentially, removing water from the fish helps inhibit microorganisms and bacteria from growing inside the meat. The type of fish ideal for drying usually have a low-fat content, since they will preserve longer with less fat. Common types of fish suitable for this include:
Depending on where you're located, you may have different local species of fish. Just remember to select a fish with a generally low amount of fat, as it will spoil and go rancid quickly. It's near-impossible to properly dry and preserve chunks of fat.
Related: Making Pemmican With Game Meat
Why Do People Do This?
Removing moisture from fish as a preservation method has existed for thousands of years. It was especially important with the growth of commercial fishing in the 15th and 16th centuries. Fishermen needed a way to keep their fish from spoiling during transportation to different ports.
And salting/drying their catch worked perfectly. Native and indigenous communities across Canada still practice the fine art of making dry fish as a method of food preservation.
In fact, most coastal cultures around the world have created their own versions of dried fish throughout history. For example, in the Philippines they refer to their dried fish as Daing, which literally translates to "sun-baked, or sun-dried". This dish is still popular today and is often served with rice as a breakfast dish. However, the versatility of this dish means it can be used in many meals and preparations.
Interested in learning how to make a simple Daing for breakfast? You'll probably have most ingredients in your pantry. Check out this traditional Filipino Daing Na Isda recipe to get started.
Another way to preserve fresh fish is by canning. If your family depends on fish for food security, learning how to can fresh fish could be a good idea.
Related: Smoking & Dehydrating Game Meat
Common Ways to Dry Fish
When using this method of fish preservation, you want to use the freshest fish possible to get the best results. The easiest way to get started is by using very salty brine, 3 parts water to 1 part salt. By brining the fish, you remove the blood from the meat.
Another traditional method of fish preservation involves dry-salting, which is exactly what it sounds like. After cleaning the fish, you lay them in a dry basket and cover them with salt. Use about one-third of the weight of the fish in salt.
Cover the basket and let it sit for 9-10 days. The salt will draw all of the moisture out of the fish, and starve bacteria so they won't be able to grow.
Modern technology means you can make fish this way in a dehydrator or even make smoked fish using a charcoal smoker. Read the instruction manual carefully before trying this. And make sure to wash all parts of the dehydrator in hot soapy water before and after preparing the fish.
Alternatively, you remove moisture to preserve fish by smoking them.
If you have access to a smoker, this will be easy. If not, space the fish out on a wire mesh or rack with good airflow underneath. Build a small fire underneath and flip the fish every other day. Keep in mind, larger fish take longer to fully dry, so check them each day.
Making Dry Fish
On those days when the fish are jumping in your boat, dry out the extras to make a tasty snack.
- Big bowl or container
- For beginners, the easiest way to dry your fish is by using an oven or dehydrator.
- If you’re using an oven, set it between 160 – 180 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the size of your fish.
- Descale the fish, gut them, and clean inside and out thoroughly. Leaving any bad parts in the fish will affect the drying process.
- Rub salt inside and out of the fish. A large flake salt like Kosher is ideal.
- Place the fish on a wire rack with a pan underneath to catch any drips.
- Bake the fish for 15 minutes at your set temperature.
- Turn off the heat, and leave the fish uncovered in the oven for 24 hours.
- Repeat steps 5 and 6 every day for 4 days in a row.
- Once completed, check the fish. If they don’t seem fully dry, add a day or two extra in the oven.
- Store your fish in an airtight container or use a vacuum sealer.
Depending on the method you use, you can add smoky flavor or just go for the traditional salted and dried style. If you want a little flavor, try dipping the fish in some spicy vinegar. Chop up a few chili flakes and sprinkle them on top, or use them as part of a dry rub on the fish while it's salted.
Just remember, the key to properly drying fish is to clean, salt, and make sure you’ve removed as much moisture as possible.
Interested in learning more about food preservation off the grid? Continue reading below.