What Is Salt Fish in Caribbean Cuisine?

About Salt Fish, Bacalao, Bacalhau, Baccalà

In the Caribbean, salt fish is fresh meaty white fish (typically cod) that has been preserved for longer storage by salt-curing and drying until all the moisture has been extracted.

In order to prepare salt fish for cooking, it needs to be rehydrated and most of the salt removed through a process of overnight soaking in hot water and subsequent boiling. The aim is never to remove all of the salt. Enough salt should remain to taste otherwise you can end up with a bland piece of fish.

Salt Fish Indispensable in Caribbean Cuisine

Salt fish, also called bacalao, bacalhau, baccalà or dried fish, has been a part of Caribbean cuisine dating to the days of colonial rule. Salt fish was first introduced to the Caribbean in the 16th century. Vessels from North America -- mainly Canada -- would come bringing lumber, and pickled and salted cod. They would return with Caribbean molasses, rum, sugar and salt.

Today, most of the salt fish consumed in the region is still imported, though countries like Guyana now makes its own salt fish. In addition to the ever-popular cod fish, other common fish that are salt-cured and dried include pollock, snapper, and shark.

How Caribbeans Cook Salt Cod

The most popular way of preparing salt fish in the Caribbean is by sautéeing it with thyme, lots of onions, tomatoes and hot pepper. When cooked this way, the salt fish can be eaten with rice, roti, ground provisions.

It is most popularly eaten with bakes (a fried dough).

How Salt Fish Is Sold

Salt fish comes in two varieties -- bone-in with the skin intact and boneless with the skin removed. The bone-in variety costs less than the boneless, skinless salt fish but both types taste the same.

The difference lies in the amount of work that goes into the preparation - removing the bones and the skin.

However, once the bone-in salt fish is given a good overnight soak in boiling hot water, removing the bones and skin is very easy work.

Salt fish for household use is not packaged and sold in large quantities. It is mostly sold in half-pound and one-pound packages.