In the Caribbean, salt fish, also called bacalo, bacalhau, baccalà or dried 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. Ackee and Salt Fish is Jamaica’s national dish.
In order to prepare salt fish for cooking, it must be rehydrated and most of the salt removed through overnight soaking in hot water and subsequent boiling. The aim is never to remove all the salt—enough salt should remain to provide taste. Otherwise, you can end up with a plain piece of fish.
Salt fish has been engrained in Caribbean cuisine since the era of European colonial rule. In fact, salt fish was introduced to the Caribbean in the 16th century. Vessels from North America, predominantly Canada, would come bringing lumber and pickled and salted cod. They would then return to their homeland with Caribbean molasses, rum, sugar, and salt. What a heritage!
The most common way of preparing salt fish in the Caribbean is by sautéeing it with onions, thyme, tomatoes and hot pepper. When cooked like this, the salt fish can be eaten with rice, roti, and ground provisions (tuber root vegetables). It is most popularly eaten with bakes (a fried dough).
Salt cod is also made into fritters—called stamp and go in Jamaica, bacalaitos in Puerto Rico and acras de morue in Guadeloupe and Martinique. The fish is dredged in a spicy batter and then deep fried until crispy.
How to make Ackee and Salt fish, Jamaica’s token national dish:
- 600g boneless salted cod
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 3 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp ground pimento (allspice)
- ½ red pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
- ½ green pepper, deseeded and finely chopped
- 1 large tomato, chopped
- 2 x 540g cans ackee, drained
- STEP 1
Put the salt cold in the pot and cover it with cold water. Bring to the boil, then boil for 5 minutes, drain and add fresh cold water to cover.
- STEP 2
Repeat this process until you’re happy with the saltiness; we advise boiling the fish three times for an ideal balance of salt in the fish. Drain and leave to cool. Use a fork to shred the salted cod into pieces and set aside.
- STEP 3
Get a large frying pan. Pour the vegetable oil into the frying pan and place over a high heat. When the oil is sizzling hot, reduce the heat to low-medium. Add the onion, garlic, spring onions and scotch bonnet, then cook until soft, for approximately 5-7 minutes.
- STEP 4
Add the salted cod, some black pepper, thyme and pimento, then mix it all together and cook down for approximately 3 minutes.
- STEP 5
Now, add in the red and green bell peppers, alongside the tomato. Mix it all together and cook down for 2-3 minutes. These ingredients help to bring a heat balance, so it’s not excessively spicy.
- STEP 6
Add in the ackee and a little more black pepper. Fold in the ackee; it’s soft so it’s important to fold it in very gently – mushy ackee is not desirable.
- STEP 7
Once folded in, simmer for 3-5 minutes before serving.