Do you need to soak salted fish before cooking?

Are you a seafood enthusiast who loves to cook with salted fish? Do you find yourself pondering whether or not to soak it before cooking? It’s a common dilemma, especially for those new to preparing salted fish. But don’t worry, we’re here to help clear things up and put an end to this age-old question once and for all.

Salted fish is a beloved ingredient in many cuisines worldwide, but its preparation can be a bit tricky. Some cooks swear by soaking their salted fish before cooking, while others argue that it’s unnecessary. So, what’s the verdict – do you really need to soak salted fish before cooking?

Well, the answer isn’t so straightforward. It depends on the type of salted fish you have. Some varieties are drier and saltier than others, and in these cases, soaking them can help remove some of the excess salt and reduce overall saltiness. However, certain types like bacalao – a popular salted codfish – require no soaking at all due to their mild saltiness.

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So which types of salted fish require soaking and how long should you soak them for? In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into this topic and provide you with all the information you need to know about soaking salted fish before cooking. Keep reading to learn more.


Types of Salted Fish

Salted fish is a versatile ingredient that can add a unique flavor and texture to dishes. From the firm texture of salted cod to the rich oily texture of mackerel, there are various types of salted fish with their distinct characteristics. Here are five types of salted fish and what makes them special:

Salted Cod

One of the most popular types of salted fish, salted cod is commonly used in Mediterranean and Caribbean cuisines. The process of drying and salting gives it a firm texture and mild, slightly sweet flavor that pairs well with various dishes such as stews, soups, and casseroles.

Salted Mackerel

This type of salted fish is a favorite in Asian cuisine due to its rich and oily texture, which makes it ideal for grilling or frying. Its strong flavor can be balanced out by pairing it with spicy sauces or pickled vegetables.

Salted Herring

Popular in Scandinavian cuisine, salted herring has a tangy flavor that pairs well with acidic ingredients like vinegar or lemon juice. It has a rich and oily texture and is often served as a snack or appetizer.

Salted Salmon

Made from wild salmon cured with salt and sugar, salted salmon has a buttery texture and delicate flavor that works well in salads or as a topping for sushi.


A small, oily fish usually packed in salt or oil, anchovies are commonly used as a seasoning in Mediterranean cuisine. They add a salty and umami flavor to dishes like pizza and pasta.

Regardless of the type of salted fish chosen, soaking before cooking is necessary to remove excess salt and rehydrate the fish. Soaking also helps to improve its overall flavor and texture.

In conclusion, the different types of salted fish offer unique flavors and textures that can elevate any dish’s taste profile.

Why Soak Salted Fish Before Cooking?

If so, you may already know that it’s important to soak the fish before cooking. But why is this step so crucial for achieving the best results in your dishes? As an expert on the topic, let me share with you the fascinating reasons why soaking salted fish is an essential culinary technique.

Firstly, when fish is salted, it helps to preserve it and prevent bacteria growth. However, this process also draws out moisture from the flesh, leaving it intensely salty and overpowering in flavor. Soaking the fish in water helps to remove some of the excess salt and allows other flavors in the dish to shine through. Imagine a perfectly balanced seafood stew or a delicate fish curry – these dishes wouldn’t be possible without soaking the salted fish first.

But why is soaking more effective than simply rinsing off the salt? Think of it this way: soaking allows the water to penetrate deeper into the flesh of the fish, drawing out more of the salt than a simple rinse could achieve. Plus, soaking can help to rehydrate the fish if it has been dried or smoked. These processes can cause the fish to become quite dry, so soaking helps to restore some moisture to the flesh, making it more tender and flavorful when cooked.

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So how long should you soak your salted fish? The answer depends on several factors, including the type of fish and how heavily it has been salted. In general, soaking for at least 30 minutes to an hour is recommended. This gives enough time for the excess salt to be drawn out while still preserving the unique flavor and texture of the fish.

Different Ways to Soak Salted Fish

Salted fish is a staple ingredient in many cuisines, but before it can be used in a recipe, it needs to be soaked to remove excess salt. There are several different ways to soak salted fish, each with their own benefits and drawbacks. As an expert in this field, I am here to share my knowledge on the different methods of soaking salted fish.

Overnight Soak:

One of the most common ways to soak salted fish is by leaving it in a bowl of water overnight in the refrigerator. This method allows the salt to dissolve slowly, and the fish can rehydrate properly. The cold temperature helps preserve the texture of the fish and prevent it from becoming too mushy.


Boiling is a quicker method of soaking salted fish, but it requires more attention. To do this, place the fish in a pot of cold water and bring it to a boil. Once it starts boiling, reduce the heat and let it simmer for about 10-15 minutes. Drain the water and repeat the process until the desired level of saltiness is achieved. Boiling can be useful for thicker cuts of fish that need to be rehydrated quickly.

Quick Soak:

If you are short on time, you can use a quick soak method by placing the fish in a bowl of cold water for an hour or two, depending on how salty it is. This method is ideal for thinner cuts of fish that do not require as much time to rehydrate.

Milk Soak:

Soaking salted fish in milk is another popular method that works well for thicker cuts of fish. The enzymes in milk help break down the salt and improve the texture of the fish. Simply place the fish in a bowl of milk and let it soak for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Lemon or Lime Juice:

For those who prefer a more hands-on approach, rubbing lemon or lime juice on the salted fish before cooking can help to neutralize some of the saltiness while adding a fresh flavor to the dish. This method is ideal for those who prefer a citrusy taste in their dishes.

How Long Should You Soak Salted Fish?

Firstly, the length of time you should soak your salted fish depends on various factors, including the type of fish and its salt content. As a general rule, soaking salted fish for at least 1-2 hours is recommended as it helps remove some of the excess salt and enhances its taste. However, for particularly salty or heavily salted fish, a longer soak may be necessary.

To check if your fish has been soaked long enough, taste a small portion after soaking it for an hour or two. If it’s still too salty, continue soaking until the desired level of saltiness is achieved. Keep in mind that over-soaking can have negative effects on the texture and flavor of the fish. Soaking for too long can cause the fish to become mushy and lose its natural flavors.

When determining how long to soak your salted fish, consider factors such as the type of fish, saltiness, thickness, and your personal preference. Some types of salted fish may require longer soaking times than others, while thicker cuts may need more time.

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Benefits of Soaking Salted Fish Before Cooking

Or maybe you’ve noticed some strange flavors or impurities in your salted fish that just don’t seem right. Well, fret not my fellow foodies, because soaking salted fish before cooking can be the solution to all your problems.

Soaking salted fish before cooking is an essential step that can provide several benefits. Let’s dive into the details:

  • Reduction of Excess Saltiness: The process of preserving fish with salt can make it quite salty, making it difficult for some people to enjoy. Soaking the fish in water for a period of time can help to draw out some of the excess salt, resulting in a milder flavor that is more palatable for some people. This simple step can transform an overly salty dish into an irresistible one.
  • Removal of Impurities and Off-Flavors: The process of salting and preserving the fish can sometimes result in a buildup of impurities or off-flavors. Soaking the fish can help to remove these unwanted elements, resulting in a cleaner and more enjoyable taste. Say goodbye to strange flavors or impurities lurking around your dish.
  • Rehydration of the Flesh: The process of salting and preserving the fish can sometimes cause it to become dry and tough. Soaking the fish in water before cooking can help to rehydrate the flesh, resulting in a more tender and juicy end product. Nobody likes dry, tough fish, am I right?

Disadvantages of Not Soaking Salted Fish

Fear not, for there is a simple solution to all your salted fish woes – soaking it before cooking. Failure to do so may result in several disadvantages that can ruin your dish and your health.

Firstly, unsoaked salted fish can be overwhelmingly salty, drowning out any natural flavor the fish may have had. Salt is used in large quantities to preserve the fish, and if not soaked beforehand, it can be too salty to eat.

Secondly, not soaking salted fish can result in a tough and chewy texture. The dehydrating effects of the salt preservation process can leave the flesh dry and rubbery, making it unpleasant to eat. Soaking the fish before cooking can rehydrate the flesh and restore its tender texture.

Thirdly, consuming unsoaked salted fish can pose health risks due to its high sodium content. Excessive sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Soaking the fish before cooking can help reduce the salt content and make it safer to consume.

Lastly, unsoaked salted fish can be difficult to cook evenly. The dehydrated flesh may take longer to cook through, resulting in unevenly cooked portions. Soaking the fish before cooking helps rehydrate the flesh and ensures even cooking throughout.

Types of Salted Fish That Don’t Require Soaking

Salted fish is a versatile ingredient that adds depth and flavor to various dishes. However, many home cooks are intimidated by the soaking process, which can be time-consuming and tricky to get right. Fortunately, there are several types of salted fish that don’t require soaking before cooking. Let’s take a closer look at these varieties.

Bacalao or Salt Cod

Bacalao is a staple in Mediterranean and Latin American cuisine and is known for its firm texture and mild flavor. It’s typically sold in thick, boneless fillets that have been desalinated through soaking and rinsing before packaging. As a result, it can be used directly in recipes without further soaking.

Smoked Salmon

Smoked salmon is cured with a mixture of salt, sugar, and spices before being smoked at low temperatures. This process preserves the fish while imparting a smoky flavor, making it safe to eat without further preparation.


Herring is a small oily fish that’s pickled in vinegar and salt before being packaged in jars or cans. The vinegar helps to preserve the fish while reducing its salt content, making it safe to eat without soaking.


Anchovies are small fish that are often packed in oil or salt. They have a strong salty flavor which makes them perfect for use in sauces, dressings, pizzas, and other dishes without any further preparation.


Mackerel is another type of salted fish that doesn’t require soaking. This fish is typically sold in cans or jars and has been cured in brine or vinegar. While you can rinse the mackerel under cold water to reduce its salt content, it’s not necessary for cooking.

It’s important to note that while these types of salted fish don’t require soaking, you should always taste your fish before using it in a recipe to ensure that the flavor isn’t too salty for your tastes. Additionally, if you’re unsure whether or not your particular type of salted fish needs to be soaked, it’s always a good idea to read the label or consult with an expert.

Tips for Successfully Soaking and Cooking Salted Fish

Salted fish is a delicious and flavorful ingredient that can be used in a variety of dishes. However, cooking it can be intimidating if you’re not sure how to handle it properly. Soaking salted fish before cooking is an essential step that should not be skipped. Here are some helpful tips and techniques for successfully soaking and cooking salted fish.

Use Cold Water for Soaking

To avoid making the fish tough and rubbery, it’s best to soak salted fish in cold water. Hot water can cause the fish to become overcooked and dry out, which will affect its texture and flavor.

Soak for the Right Amount of Time

The length of time you need to soak salted fish can vary depending on the type and thickness of the fish. In general, it is recommended to soak the fish for at least 2-3 hours, but some types of salted fish may require longer soaking times. Be sure to check the package instructions or do some research beforehand to determine the appropriate soaking time.

Change the Water Frequently

During the soaking process, it’s important to change the water several times. This helps to ensure that all excess salt is removed from the fish. You can taste a small piece of the fish after soaking to see if it is still too salty. If it is, continue soaking and changing the water until it reaches your desired level of saltiness.

Handle with Care When Cooking

Cooking salted fish requires a gentle touch as it can be more delicate than fresh fish due to its higher sodium content. Avoid overcooking or handling it roughly, as this can cause it to fall apart or become too dry.

Pair with Complementary Ingredients

One tip for cooking salted fish is to pair it with other ingredients that are not too salty themselves. Vegetables like spinach or green beans can balance out the saltiness of the fish and provide a fresh contrast. You can also use herbs and spices like garlic, ginger, or thyme to add flavor without adding more salt.

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To truly elevate your dish, never skip the essential step of soaking salted fish before cooking. Soaking helps to remove excess salt and impurities while rehydrating the flesh, resulting in a milder flavor that is more palatable for some. The texture of the fish can also be improved as it becomes more tender and juicy when cooked.

Depending on the type and thickness of the fish, soaking times can vary. Whether you choose to do an overnight soak, boil, quick soak, milk soak or lemon or lime juice rub, each method has its own benefits and drawbacks. However, certain types of salted fish like bacalao or salt cod, smoked salmon, herring, anchovies and mackerel don’t require soaking beforehand.

When handling salted fish, it’s important to remember that it can be more delicate than fresh fish due to its higher sodium content. Pairing it with complementary ingredients such as vegetables or herbs can help balance out the saltiness while providing a fresh contrast.

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