Salted codfish or bacalao is essential to Jamaican dishes like Ackee and Saltfish and Saltfish Fritters. It goes without saying that bacalao for home cooking is difficult to come by in Bangkok. So I found the directions for curing codfish on The Spruce Eats. I couldn’t find sea salt in large quantities for curing. I did find it eventually, but only after I had bought 5 kg of iodized table salt (43 baht at Makro). I found frozen codfish fillets, also at Makro, for 160 baht. So for 200 baht (about US$6.00) I can make my own bacalao as compared to buying it for US$12.00 per pound. I also read online that curing fish with iodized table salt might brown the fish and give it a bitter taste. But I decided to try it anyway with just 2 fillets. To my surprise, they came out just fine. Here’s how I did it:
2 frozen codfish fillets, thawed
Sea salt (I used iodized table salt but a medium grain sea salt or kosher salt is recommended)
9×13 inch glass dish (can use stainless steel. Do not use plastic)
Rimmed baking tray
Rinse and thoroughly pat dry the thawed fillets. Spread a 1/2 inch layer of salt in the bottom of the dish. Place the fish fillets in a single layer on top of the salt, making sure they are not touching. Cover completely with another layer of salt.
Cook’s Note: The Spruce Eats allows that a second layer of fish can be added on top of the first layer. Make sure the second layer is completely covered in salt.
Cover the dish loosely with a clean kitchen towel to absorb odors, and place the whole thing in the refrigerator for 48 hours. The fillets will give off a fishy smell but will not smell spoiled. After 48 hours, the fillets were dry, even flatter from the loss of moisture, had lost about 25% of their length and about 10-15% of their width. Discard the salt.
Rinse the fillets and pat dry with a clean dish towel. Wrap each fillet individually in cheesecloth and set them in a single layer on the wire rack set on top of the baking tray or dish. Return to the refrigerator for 1-2 weeks to dry and stiffen up.
After 1 week, the fillets became dry and stiff. There was no moisture or smell because the salt had drawn away all the water from the fillets. The cheesecloth remained dry the whole week. The fillets turned white and stiff.
Wrap each fillet in waxed paper and then in foil. Label and date. Store in the refrigerator 3 months or up to 1 year in the freezer.
Before cooking you need to remove the excess salt. Soak the fillets in water for 24 hours, changing the water at least twice. My mother always boiled a piece of salted codfish for 3-5 minutes to remove the salt.
To test the result, I then cooked one of the fillets with tomatoes, onion, and ackee. The saltfish was too thin, I think, and lacked the “meatiness” necessary for the dish. It wasn’t bitter at all. The next time I cure fish, I will use a thicker fillet, and experiment with a different whitefish such as pollock, haddock, or flounder.