In “Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World,” author Mark Kurlansky explains that cod is the reason Europeans crossed the Atlantic, and it’s the only reason they could. They went in search of the fish, and on the way, they ate the fish, preserved in salt.
Salted fish, or “salt fish,” is now common in Europe and in many countries colonized by European nations, including those in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.
The United States Virgin Islands were claimed by a number of European powers, including Denmark, England, France, and The Knights of Malta (!). Staying at The Buccaneer, a hotel that stands where once was the estate of a Maltese knight (and later Alexander Hamilton), I frequently had salt fish for breakfast; it’s a salty, flavorful counterpoint to eggs, much like bacon.
Salting preserves, and concentrates flavor; it also gives fish a pleasant chewiness.
Before cooking, you must de-salt the fish. Chef Gary Klinefelter of The Buccaneer soaks salt cod for 10 hours. Then he puts it in fresh water, which he brings to a boil; he simmers the fish for 20 minutes. After it cools, he picks out bones.
Here’s a slightly modified version of Klinefelter’s recipe for salt fish:
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan; add 1 cup chopped onions and cook until translucent; add 4 sprigs fresh thyme.
2. Add 2 cloves crushed garlic, 1 cup diced tomatoes, 1 cup julienned sweet peppers and 1 chopped habanero; cook low 2 minutes.
3. Add 8oz of de-salted cod, crumbled, and toss occasionally for 7 minutes; fold in ½ cup chopped green onions.