Dry-salting creates an environment so harsh that bacteria can’t grow — not even the salt-tolerant ones that make lacto-fermentation work. Dry-salting is used to make salted cod (bacalao) or other salted fish and dry-cured olives and capers. It’s also the first step in many common meat-preservation techniques.
For a basic dry-salt cure, put a layer of salt in a container, followed by a layer of the food you want to preserve. Completely cover every bit of the food’s surface with another layer of salt, and then put another layer of food on top. Continue until you’ve used up all the food or run out of space in the container. Finish with a layer of salt.
To use your salted fish or other foods, soak them in water for 24 hours to remove most of the salt; change the water a few times during the process.
How to Make Salted Fish
Be sure to use fish you’ve caught yourself or wild-caught fish from a trusted, sustainable source. Try dry-salted fish in dishes such as Portuguese stew or brandade, a mix of salted cod, garlic, olive oil, and cream that’s puréed and served with bread. Because the fish is soaked for at least a day before using, it isn’t too salty in the final recipes.
Salted Fish Recipe
• Cod, haddock, flounder, or other mild, flaky fish fillets
• Kosher or medium-grain sea salt
1. Rinse the fish and dry it with a clean dishcloth. Spread a layer of salt at least 1/2-inch thick in a container. Lay pieces of fish on top so that none of them are touching. Cover the pieces of fish with another thick layer of salt. Repeat, alternating the salt and fish layers until you’ve buried all the fish in salt, and finish with at least 1/2-inch layer of salt on top.
2. Put the salted fish into a refrigerator or cold cellar at around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, uncovered, for 2 days.
3. After 2 days have passed, brush as much of the salt off the fish as you can (don’t worry if you don’t remove every speck). Wrap the fish in cheesecloth. Set it on a rack over a plate or tray, and put it back into a refrigerator or cold cellar for another week or so.
4. Remove the cheesecloth and store the salted fish in a closed container in a refrigerator or cold cellar.
5. To use salted fish, first soak it for at least 24 hours, and change the water at least twice during that time. Two days of soaking with changes of water will be even better.
For much more on simple food preservation techniques that require low or no energy, check out Off-Grid Food Preservation Methods.