Sliced cold smoked fish fillets arranged on a wooden cutting board next to a larger piece with skin visible.

Exploring Dry Salt Curing Fish (salted, dried, cold smoked)

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Writer / Enthusiast / Meat Curer / Forager / Harvester | About Tom

For decades, immersed in studying, working, learning, and teaching in the craft of meat curing, now sharing his passion with you through eat cured meat online resource.

Over the decades, I’ve explored many aspects of salt curing different types of meat. I wanted to share what I’ve learned from my experiences using fish more recently since it’s a topic rarely covered.

It started when I discovered Mojama, a salt-dry cured Tuna specialty from Spain. This opened up a new door to an area of curing. I’ve cured thousands of pounds of wild meat and pork.

Dry-cured tuna, called mojama, is probably the most emblematic food product obtained from the traditional processing of tuna on the Mediterranean coast of Spain (Andalusia, Murcia, and Valencia) and Portuga

Physicochemical and Microbiological Changes Associated with Processing in Dry-Cured Tuna

This is not salt fish, a thoroughly salt-saturated cure that is then excessively dried to make it hard and allow it to be preserved entirely.

Salt curing can hold moisture on the surface of the fish. I used salt curing to preserve/cure the fish, then subtly dried it with 40-50% weight loss.

Slices of KingFish also known as Yellow-Tail. Oily / Fatty Fish. This was salt cured and then actually cold smoked for 4 hours.
Slices of Kingfish, also known as Yellowtail, are oily / Fatty Fish. They were salt-cured and then cold-smoked for 4 hours.

Details about Dry Salt Curing Fish

After trying different types of salt-cured fish across Europe, I’ve used salt-curing for many meaty projects for decades; I wanted to try to deal with fish.

So, let’s get into the process. Then, I will cover some essential aspects to help you possibly have a go.

Process for Dry Salt Curing Fish

If you have never heard of Mojama “Ham of the Sea”, it’s a refined gourmet cured product of Spain I discovered in a Spanish Meat Curing Text Book. It’s also the same style of cured fish as the Italian – Mosciame (in recent times, not with Dolphin meat)

Quality of the Fish is Key

I have noticed that many of the fish that are salt-cured worldwide are high in omega-3 and 6.

One of my theories is that more oil and less water in the fish’s meat will cause much shrinkage during the drying process.

I also cold-smoked it for 4 hours to flavor it.

In Spain, the focus is on high-quality tuna for making salt-dry-cured fish. Blue and yellow from June or are very high in these types of oil ( long chain, highly unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids) and have dense flesh.

Some fish store fatty oils in the liver, while most others seem to store it in the muscles and flesh.

Trout, Salmon, Tuna, and even mullet roe are used. In Italy, a type of salt-cured product called Bottagra with grey mullet roaches (fish eggs) is used.

Also, while researching this article, I discovered that if you want to freeze fish, you’re better off doing it with oily or fatty fish.

I’ve done some dry aging using oily and non-oily fish. You find that the meat on the first shrinks rapidly without the oil throughout the meat. (Dry Curing is with salt vs Dry Aging without – I wrote about this here in FAQs).

Curing the Fish

This is the kingfish fillet, the large one in the picture used for this salt dry cured article.
Good day of fish. The smaller fillets are Blue Mao Mao. The large fillet is a kingfish/yellow tail (measuring 800mm in length), as shown in this article.

There are two methods for curing fish or any other meat. I’ve read a lot about them and their differences. The traditional method is saturation curing, while excess curing is the traditional method.

The more modern curing approach is equilibrium curing. Since there are two to choose from, I’ll discuss both methods.

Understanding the Basics of Salt-Curing Fish

The idea is to use salt’s effects to inhibit the meat and slow down the water activity inside. This creates an inhospitable environment for most bacteria that spoil the fish. Bacteria love moisture in meat.

Simple Sea Salt is generally something that doesn’t have any additives such as an anti-caking agent or iodine added (table salt does have additives normally).

Sea salt and in a fine shape not the coarse rock salt.

If you want more information about dry curing, here is a link.

I wrote this article to provide more information about what types of salt to use for curing.

Accurate Salt Curing Method Vs. Inaccurate

As mentioned, there are two methods. One is to lay salt below and above the fish and leave it for approximately I gave her 1 to 2 pounds of meat.

I have personally found that using the saturation method like this on fish, salt-cured meat penetrates faster than other red meats that I have used.

Then, remove the fish from the salt water, wash it with fresh water, and hang it to dry.

Secondly, equilibrium curing is a more accurate method that involves equalizing the salt concentration inside the meat using a very tight plastic bag or a vacuum-packed bag.

I’ve written a lot on this website about curing using equilibrium method, you can find a link here.

The minimum salt I use for dry curing meat is 2% salt to the total meat fish weight.

As a quick example:

1000 grams of fish

2% = 20 grams of sea salt for the equilibrium cure.

Drying the Fish

After the curing, then hanging is needed to dry, and reduce 40%+ moisture.
Kingfish ready to be hung and dried.

I have tried this dry-cured fish using a fridge designed for dry aging or dry curing.

The other option I’ve used is a converted drying chamber for shock uterine dry cured meats, using controllers to switch on and off humidifiers and dehumidifiers.

Ideally, the drying is high humidity and fridge temperature therefore 70-80% Humidity and 35-40F/2-5C

They also use the controllers to turn off and on the fridge, which is often a secondhand fridge that is frost-free. Plug-and-play controllers are now available on the market, which makes this conversion relatively straightforward.

Here is a link to an article I wrote about building a DIY drying chamber for this type of project.

Useful equipment

Non-Reactive Dish

For saturation curing, this is basically what you need.

Drying Fridge

Salt Cured KingFish Hanging in the Drying Fridge.
Kingfish salt cured and hanging in the little Charcuterie Fridge. Converted a fridge would be the other option.

I have not used a regular kitchen fridge, but I know you sometimes get unequal drying because of the low humidity, which can challenge the project.

I will create this in the future, and it involves experiments around drug curing and dry aging in a regular fridge.

Digital Scales to 1 Decimal Place

These are nearly essential for the equilibrium curing method since you are dealing with precision when equalizing inside the bag.

What Types of Fish to Use

As I mentioned earlier, oily and fatty fish tend to be more suited to drying and cold smoking (link to cold smoking article category list on this site) if applicable.

The fat is stored in the muscles as opposed to in the liver.

The Spanish were very much focused on tuna, which is, of course, a prized fish. In parts of the world where I’ve lived, such as Oceana, New Zealand, and Australia, there is a fish called Kahawai / Australian Salmon.

This is not a game fish and is very plentiful but is also quite oily, which is suited for this type of preparation.

Optimizing Flavor: Seasonings, Herbs, and Spices

Traditionally, this is just sea salt and nothing else in Spanish.

Sugar can also counter the intense fish flavor that can occur during the drying process. I have learned that any curing and drying of meat will intensify the flavor.

For example, wild Canada geese or wild duck, which I have salt dry cured, have been to include flavor.

Storage and Shelf Life

I have four finished kingfish, also known as yellowtail dry-cured fish, vacuum-packed in the fridge. This is the best method once the weight loss has occurred; if there is any uneven drying on dry-cured meat, vacuum packing equalizes the moisture throughout the meat, which is beneficial.

Through experience, I have found that putting the meat in the fridge uncovered dries it out more. If you put it in the refrigerator covered during the snaplock box, it stagnates after a week or two, sometimes even blooming some beneficial and not-so-beneficial mold.

If you live in a cool temperate climate, a good option is to hang the meat up so bugs can’t get to it and take slices off it when needed.

When you compare family chunks of dry-cured pork, there is less water content in the fat of pork, and it doesn’t shrink as much when you hang it up For short to medium storage.

Safety Measures and Food Hygiene

I always like to do any curing in the fridge. It slows down the process of binding and diffusion, which is curing.

However, it is always advisable to keep meat and the fridge temperature at 35-40°F or 2-5°C with any meat.

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