Sun-dried salted cod

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Sólþurrkaður saltfiskur, þorskur

Sun-dried salted cod is known as sólþurrkaður saltfiskur or þorskur in Icelandic. It is made from locally caught cod, Gadus morhua or þorskur. Salting cod is a multi-step process involving splitting, dry-salting, washing, drying and packing. The freshly caught cod is first split and washed, before being stacked in layers separated by dry salt. The cod loses moisture during this aging process while taking in salt, which gives it its characteristic appearance, texture and flavour. Dry-salting takes one to three months (but this can be significantly speeded up by using a brine for one or two days before dry-salting). After the salting, the cod is washed and dried outdoors, over wooden frames or gravel. Dry, sunny weather is very important to giving the best results, and the processor must avoid the fish getting wet or burnt. After a few weeks to a few months of drying, it is re-stacked in layers with salt and ready for packing. Drying without salting was, for centuries, the principal method of fish preservation in Iceland because salt was expensive. The first records mentioning processing of salted fish date from the 17th century. This was wet-salted fish processed for export. Drying of salted fish was introduced during the second half of the 18th century, and throughout the century salting rapidly increased in importance. Before mid-19th century, sun-dried salted fish had replaced stockfish as the most valuable export product of Iceland. Cod was and still is the most important fish used for salting, and salted cod maintained its place as Iceland’s main fish product until World War II. After this time, frozen fish products replaced salted cod as Iceland’s primary export product. In order to reduce costs, salt fish processors ceased drying the salted fish domestically and started exporting the fish directly after dry-salting without drying. The drying process was consequently transferred to Spain and Portugal, which were Iceland’s principal markets for salted cod, and dried salted fish disappeared from the domestic market. For decades, sun-dried salted cod was unobtainable in stores in Iceland, although individuals continued to sun-dry salted cod for their families. In the 21st century the tradition of sun-drying has been renewed. Sun-dried salted cod has a yellowish tint a more intense flavour compared to wet-salted or indoor dried fish. It is always soaked in water before being eaten, and can be used in a variety of dishes. Traditionally in Iceland, it is boiled and served with boiled potatoes and melted butter or sheep’s tallow. Its limited commercial production of about two to three tons per year is centred in the Westfjords area today.

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