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What Is Dried Fish?

By Donna Tinus
Updated May 16, 2024
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Dried fish is used in an assortment of global cuisines, from Asian to Cajun. To created dried fish, various fish species can be exposed to air until the fish is depleted of its natural water content. Depending on the type of fish, it may have been soaked in a salt water solution before it is dried. Drying fish is a popular way to preserve this food item in Asian fishing towns. The dried fish is then cut up into small pieces to be eaten as a snack, flaked for use in a recipe, or combined with rice.

Shrimp that has been dried is often used in Asian dishes. It imparts a slightly savory flavor called umami. It can be used in braised dishes, soup, or dim sum. Cajun gumbo often utilizes dried shrimp instead of, or in addition to, fresh shrimp to add a different taste to the traditional Cajun dish.

A fish delicacy that is often created in Asia is called Bombay duck. The name is a misnomer, as the meat is not dried duck, but dried fish. The lizard fish is caught in the South China Sea and Arabian Sea. It is then salted, dried, and packed in airtight containers due to the strong fish odor. Since Bombay duck has very little taste, it is usually fried in butter or oil and served as a first course.

Bonito is a medium-sized fish that is often dried, shaved, and added to soups. Dried cod is called salt cod when it's dried after being soaked in a salt water solution called brine. When the dried fish has been dried without being salted, it's called stock fish. The Norwegian call the dried cod klippfisk, leading Americans to often call it clipfish. Other types of whitefish can be used if cod is not available.

To make dried fish, the fish is first washed off and split in half. The gills and internal organs are removed, leaving two fillets. The fillets can be stretched out between two screens and left to dry out for a few days. Some fish, especially large fish, are hung out to dry in the sun for several days. If the fish isn't soaked in a salted solution before drying, salt may be added after the fish is dry.

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Discussion Comments
By pastanaga — On Feb 15, 2014

@indigomoth - Often the drying fish have fires built around them so that flies don't get on them (or in a commercial operation, they would have other measures to keep them safe). But as for bacteria, even if there is some growth during the drying process, they can't live without liquid, and people have been eating dried fish for thousands of years without problems, so I imagine they have the technique down by now.

There's actually no need to smell the dried fish in your kitchen. Bonito flakes usually come in packages, unless you're a traditionalist who likes to shave off your own flakes.

By indigomoth — On Feb 15, 2014

@Mor - I don't think I could stand to have dried fish in my kitchen because of the smell. Fresh fish doesn't smell much (if it does, then it's not very fresh) but dried fish almost always seems to reek quite badly to me.

Plus, for some reason, it just seems more dangerous than other kinds of dried food. I guess it's because fish just doesn't seem to be the kind of thing that you can hang out to dry for multiple days without some kind of bacteria growing on it.

Now, if you are smoking the fish, I am there. Freshly smoked fish is delicious.

By Mor — On Feb 14, 2014

Dried fish can be quite useful although I don't know if I've ever used it in a Western country. I tend to use other things here to flavor my dishes, but when I was living in West Africa they were a godsend because otherwise there was very little variety. Dried fish were cheap and easy to just grind up and put into a stew.

Plus I could feed them to my cat without feeling bad about wasting meat, since they were much less of a luxury item.

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