Salting Food Down

Sharon July 10th, 2008

Another “oldest method” of preserving food is salting.  It is comparatively rarely used now, and for fairly good reasons - some people are salt sensitive, and experience blood pressure rises if they consume too much.  Eating lots of heavily salted foods has been linked to stomach cancer.  And salted foods are salty - they have to be soaked to remove the salt and be palatable.  But that said, however, salt brines were the standard method of preservation for many meats and fishes for centuries, and we should know how to do this - period.  Salt is inexpensive, and its replacement came with the era of refrigerated shipping, which is probably getting close to over.  And salt foods have their place in various cuisines and cultures - baccalao, or salt cod, is a traditional food for the large Portugese populations in coastal Massachusetts - having grown up around fishing communities, this was a familiar food to me as a kid.  Salt pork was the staple meat of most pioneers, simply because it could be transported, and is still commonly used in baked beans. 

 The theory is very simple - enough salt and microorganisms can’t live.  They can’t tolerate an extremely salty environment.  The recipes I’m using have not been USDA approved - I can’t find any useful USDA information about salting at all, except in collaboration with smoking.  I don’t think anyone recommends it.  But in _Keeping Food Fresh: Old World Techniques and Recipes_ there are recipes from French gardeners and farmers that have been used for centuries.  They suggest that fish should be essentially buried in salt - and that’s what is done with salt cod.  The fish are cleaned and layered with a thick layer of sea salt (sea salt has a better flavor than most kitchen salts) - at room temperature, salted fish will keep a full year - although use your nose and eyes for signs of spoilage.  Here’s how to make salt pork:

 More to my family’s taste, there’s wonderful recipe in the above cookbook for a salt stock - 1/2 lb of sea salt is layered with 2lbs of mixed green vegetables and herbs - they suggest parsley, chervil, celery and leeks but I’ve tried it with basil, onions, tarragon, etc…  Just chop up the herbs and toss them with the salt, put it in a jar and ignore - lasts forever, tastes fabulous in soup stock.



11 Responses to “Salting Food Down”

  1. Sarahon 10 Jul 2023 at 1:09 pm

    Oooo…I want to try that salt stock! Maybe I’ll grab some herbs at the farm today.

    If fish does not smell like it has gone bad, can I assume that it hasn’t? Part of me really wants to try making salt fish, just because I can.

  2. Sharonon 10 Jul 2023 at 1:25 pm

    Yes, I think so. There’s no botulism risk (since this isn’t anaerobic) so I don’t think the fish will hurt you if it doesn’t smell bad. But I can’t swear to it - there’s really no information out there thatI’ve found. But people ate it forever. And human bodies buried in salt stay in amazing preservation for thousands of years (not that I’m suggesting you eat them ;-P),


  3. Tracion 10 Jul 2023 at 1:36 pm

    I love the salt stock! I am thinking, Christmas presents in pretty jars? What do you think about garlic sliced thin and layered with the greens?


  4. Lisa Zon 10 Jul 2023 at 2:57 pm

    okay, maybe this is a dumb question: are you using fresh herbs with the salt, or are you drying the herbs first then mixing with salt? I’ve made salt and herb rubs with dried herbs before, so I’m just wondering…

    Thanks, Lisa in MN

  5. Sharonon 10 Jul 2023 at 4:41 pm

    Nope, this is fresh - extra easy, no steps ;-).


  6. Danielleon 11 Jul 2023 at 9:57 am

    The Virginia Cooperative Extension has an excellent publication on salt curing pork with or without the smoking. It includes saltpeter, but I left that out successfully.

    I have a couple posts with photos over at my blog on our process. That link is the final product, but there are internal links in that post to the earlier parts.

  7. EJon 11 Jul 2023 at 9:59 am

    Your series on food preservation is very interesting. Are you going to cover fermentation? I’ve done a bit an love it. Here’s a great resource:

  8. EJon 11 Jul 2023 at 10:01 am

    One more thing: we’re looking for food storage containers- lots of plastic out there but have you come across airtight stainless steel? Or any other suggestions? We would like to store grains and other dry goods.

  9. tasterspoonon 11 Jul 2023 at 6:04 pm

    Can you reuse the salt that you’ve stored fish (or whatever) in, once you eat whatever it is you’ve cured?

  10. paleobotaniston 12 Jul 2023 at 5:51 pm

    You’re describing “Les herbes salees” which are still used in Quebec cooking to this day if you want to explore further. My partner goes quite silly over salted basil done that way, we must remember to put some up if we have basil left over from the big pesto freeze.

  11. Chileon 13 Jul 2023 at 2:28 pm

    On the salt re-use question, I’m doing that but not for eating. I salt-cured some olives last fall. Since one purpose for the salt was drawing the bitterness out of the olives, it didn’t make sense to me to eat the bitter salt. However, I couldn’t bear to throw it all out so I stuck it in a jar under the kitchen sink. When the sink needs scrubbing, I just throw a handful in there to do the job. I would definitely NOT recommend doing this if you have the sink plumbed for graywater. That much salt would be very bad for the garden.

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