Drying fish has been an ancient, persisting traditional means to keep fish preserved for long periods of time without the risk of spoilage. As fish is such a protein-rich flesh, a fresh-caught fish begins breaking down as soon as it dies, making it a race against time to prepare it, cook it and eat it. Fresh, you usually have 2-3 days of fresh storage in a refrigerator before having to consume it or toss it. Frozen, you have within 30 days before consuming and then tossing.
Properly handled and dried fish can last without spoilage between 6 to 12 months! That’s a lot of time, and a great means to preserve food to take with you on a hike, camping, as a snack on the trail or just something to eat at home if you prefer the flavor.
Pick a fish
Pick a lean fish, not a fatty fish, as the oils in a fatty fish will make your dried fish spoil usually within the first week.
- Sea Bass
- Sea Herring
- Sea Trout
- Yellow Perch
Some fish have bold, strong flavors that survive the drying process well. Other fish have milder flavors. Choose a fish either bold or mild to dry from personal preference, but to make sure you have the best dried fish, pick a fish that is fresh.
Freshness is one of the most critical aspects of fish whether cooking or preserving. Consider a fish that is leaner for longer preservation times.
Fresh caught or whole fish need to have intestines, scales and gills removed. Small and medium fish should be butterfly cut down to the tail and spread open. Deboned or not can be up to you.
For very small fish, you can leave the head on if you like, but if the fish is longer than 8-inches or weighs more than half an ounce, best to remove it.
Fresh fish have:
- Bright, shiny skin.
- Clear eyes that aren’t cloudy, shrunken or sunk in.
- Faint to mild fishy smell.
- No dry, dull or loose scales.
Types of Drying
Traditional methods of drying fish involve all together or individually: sun, salt, air, heat or smoke. More modern methods and conveniences can also allow us to enjoy traditional tasting dried fish with a dehydrator or your very own oven.
Step 1: Prepare your fresh fish for dehydrating by rinsing your fish or fillet and then patting it as thoroughly dry as possible with paper towels.
Step 2: Begin cutting the fish or fillets in ¼ to 3/8-inch thick strips and set them aside in a baking dish. You’ll want to do your best to ensure the strips are roughly the same size in width and thickness so they will dry evenly together.
Step 3: This next part is important: to combat bacteria from growing in the fish during drying, you need salt, and a decent amount of it. You can leave this salt marinade plain, or, add a seasoning, or seasonings of your choice or follow a seasoning recipe for your kind of fish—but don’t skip the marinade.
Step 4: Once your fish has been marinated, pick up each piece and allow the marinade to drip off the fish completely, then pat dry with a paper towel. Then, lay the strip in the dehydrator trays and repeat until all fish strips are ready. It’s important to make sure each strip doesn’t touch each other in the tray.
Follow or refer to your Dehydrator’s instructions for how long it will take for perfectly dried fish.
Generally, it may take up to 10 hours for fish to dry. Many factors may influence how long or how fast your fish dries, such as how humid it is where you are, thickness of strips and the amount of fish in the dehydrator. Your best bet is to check on your fish as it dries and test it. Look out for it turning firm, feeling completely dry, and yet still pliable. If you see any hints of moisture still on the fish, keep drying. If it falls apart when you bend it to test for how pliable it is, then you have dried it for too long.
- 1 to ½ teaspoon of salt per pound of fish
- Seasonings of choice.
- ¼ cup of water.
- Marinate fish for 4-12 hours in the fridge.
The beginning stage of oven drying fish is the same as Dehydrator, so follow steps 1, steps 2, and make sure to use a salt-marinade like in step 3. Instead of the dehydrator tray, we’ll be using your oven’s top rack.
- Grease, or use cooking spray on your oven’s top rack.
- Lay your evenly cut, marinated strips of fish (make sure they’ve stopped dripping!)
- Set your oven for 145 degrees Fahrenheit. If your oven cannot go that low, choose the absolute lowest temperature for your oven.
- Important! Now set your fish laid on the rack back in the oven and leave the oven door cracked open!
- Dry for two hours at 145 or lowest temp. If possible after two hours turn oven down to 130 degrees and dry until fish is the correct consistency as described in step 4 above.
When your dried fish is ready, it’s important to store it in a cool, dry place inside an airtight and moisture resistant container, as moisture is one of the causes of bacteria growth.
Fish isn’t the only seafood that responds well to dehydrating either! Shrimp, squid and even imitation crab can be turned into dried seafood snacks or used as a dried seasoning.
As long as you keep your dried fish safely stored wherever you may take it, you are guaranteed a delicious, long-lasting, protein-packed snack or treat! The possibilities of what flavoring you use are near endless and can be adjusted for any fish lover’s tastes. Sauces and marinades from sweet to savory to zesty and spicy can all take a piece of dried fish from bland to delicious. Feel free to experiment with marinade recipes, spice mixes, and we hope you find the perfect, delicious dried fish to enjoy on the go!