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Sep 7, 2010 10:55 AM

Salted fish goodness: how are they used in other food cultures?

In the world of Cantonese cooking, an old school salt preserved/sun dried fish (typically thread fin, along with two to three other kinds that I have difficulty finding the English name for) is a supreme flavoring agent (if not condiment) in cooking, typically called "hahm yu". Basically the fish is kept whole (belly is not sliced), guts and entrails removed delicately through the mouth using hooks, and sun dried with salt that's stuffed in the fish body and gills. Canto food fans will know of the steamed pork patty with salted fish (a comfort food classic), salted fish, chicken, and tofu clay pot (another great one), and variants like salted fish chicken and eggplant (with garlic) claypot (greasy but delicious as hell). Then there are aficionados who take a huge chunk of the salted fish, stir fry it, and just throw it over rice as if it it were cuicina povera.

In Portugal and Macau, the equivalent version is Bacalhau, which the Cantonese for some reason call it "Ma Ga Yau" which oddly sounds like "Macau". The deep fried bacalhau fish balls served at some restaurants in Macau look insanely good. The fish used is typically salted dried cod.

Aside from those two, what other world food cultures used salted fish as a main course, or a flavoring agent in cooking (and how are they enjoyed)? I know of Japanese aji no hiraki (salted dried horse mackeral) and understand some basically cook it up (how?), serve over rice, and of course other variants (including dried salted smelt).

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  1. Salted dish is used a lot in Malaysia/Singapore. The smaller fish are known as ikan bilis. Usually you soak or fry them and then add them to a dish. If fried, you can just eat them as-is with plain rice or as an accompaniment to other dishes.

    1. Salt cod is used a lot in French/Italian/Spanish and Portuguese cooking, a particular favourite that comes to my mind is the French (Provencale) dish Brandade de Morue, a robust tasting creamed salt cod dish whose principal ingredients are salt cod, garlic, milk and olive oil.

      1 Reply
      1. re: andrewtree

        Love brandade as well as very similar Venetian baccalà montecato made with potatoes, garlic, olive oil, cream...

        What about West Africa? I assume it's prevalent there too.

      2. New England Salt Cod (and potato) cake.

        1. Salted cod is pretty popular in some Caribbean cuisines. A friend's mom (from Trinidad) makes a delicious salted cod recipe that consists of rehydrated salted cod (shredded) mixed with fresh tomatoes, hot pepper sauce, cilantro, onion, olive oil, salt & pepper, and lemon, served on bakes (or toast) with sliced avocado and sliced hard boiled eggs. Yum!!

          2 Replies
          1. re: lainekerr

            sounds so good! :) but then i think i like (Portuguese) salt cod every way possible.

            where i live there are *a lot* of people from Suriname/Antilles/Aruba. they like salted fish quite a bit.

            1. re: lainekerr

              I only ever had ackee and saltfish once...but damn it was good.

            2. I am sure that many cultures have varieties of salted fish.

              In the Arabian Peninsula, the coastal origin peoples have some varieties, most commonly just known as maleeh, which means salted. There are all kinds of varieties of dried sardines, anchovies, shark, and other fish. Fish are also salted and made into a fish sauce season-sauce. The most common way I have seen large dried fish eaten is in their marg/salona, which is an Arabian "curry" or wet tomatoey mildly spiced gravy. Small sized dried fish can be ground with other seasonings (dried chiles and spices) and used as a seasoning on rice dishes, or ground and added to other things as a seasoning.

              In South Asia there are also many of varieties of salted dried fish. Bombay Duck has been mentioned before on CH. In Bengal there are many many varieties such as shutki (I think shutki is the same thing as Bombay Duck, but I can't say for certain) and dried ilish. All over long subcontinental coastline there are varieties. All of these types of fish are either eaten in a curry, fried crispy, or if the fish is of a tiny variety, it can be added in small quantities to other ingredients such as a vegetable medley curry to give flavor and add protein.