Friday, August 20, 2010

Food Self Sufficiency from the Sea

Oven-dried salted boiled greenbacks

Freshly caught greenbacks

I love the show 'Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern' and last night he was in Sicily showing foods that people have caught/grown/raised/prepared there for centuries. I love pickled herring and dried salted cod so the salted raw herring caught my eye big time. Since my twenties I've treated myself now and then to cellophane bags of dried salted raw baby fish of many species from Japan, sold in Asian markets. You can eat them like potato chips or crush them into Asian dishes for protein and flavor. Tampa's Oceanic Market has a huge selection but they can be quite pricey.
I've met Japanese fishermen and women on Sunshine Skyway bridge and elsewhere using bait cast nests to catch our very plentiful 'greenbacks' most folks think of as bait fish to salt and dry raw to store for later use. They sun dry them, raw and salted, on window screens here in humid Florida! When I first moved back home from Denver I Googled various Japanese methods for making them and chose the one where you boil them in very salty water for three minutes THEN I was a little squeamish about doing it raw. I have dried and eaten and served many hundreds of them...they keep for years in sealed gallon glass jars. The fish are tiny, too tiny to they are preserved whole, heads and all.
A couple years ago he showed seaside villagers making another similar ancient delicacy...raw mullet roe sacks pressed beneath salt for months the same way. It ends up a hard block shaved onto fresh hot pasta and tossed with herbs. I forget what it is called but I looked it up on line that night and it is nowadays a PRICEY rich person's food like caviar...I forget the prices per pound but it made my jaw drop. So guess who wants to catch a BUNCH of female mullet this winter and try it too? Only difference is the mullet roe is salted and fermented raw in the salt in a wooden box so the moisture can end up with something like a very hard dry parmesan or romano cheese. Since I love making the Italian dish with dried salted cod called "bacarra" (sp?) I can imagine this dried salted roe on steaming spaghetti noodles with garlic and herbs and arugula chopped fine!
So I want to try the recipe below for salted herring but use greenbacks instead. Needlefish, which I've eaten many of fried, should work too as their bones are tiny. They'd be easier to gut than the greenbacks, though I would cut the heads off before salting and fermenting raw in the salt for a few months. I have no fear of raw fermented fish as I have eaten tons bought at Asian markets, plus have a batch of kimchee in my fridge now almost 4 years old that is YUMMY that contains crushed dried greenbacks. Finger mullets should work too, though too would need to be gutted and deheaded. I've got some great glass crocks to salt/ferment them in, 1 lb. bags of the saltpeter are just $2.69 at the Oceanic Market, and the seasalt and brown sugar are cheap at Big Lots, Dollar Tree etc.
One of the things I love about his show is his highlighting how people for many centuries, before unhealthy processed foods became the norm, have made very creative use of whatever local foods were available to survive, but in ways that are delectable, with nothing wasted (like the rabbits Sicilians cook, including the heads as they relish the cheek meat). Since I am pursuing ever greater degrees of food self sufficiency here on Paxton, salted raw fermented greenbacks, finger mullets, needlefish and more should be fun. Plus there are tons of very old European recipes for salted herrings.
I want to do this soon so that by Christmas or so they will be ready. This takes place at room temperature, so I need to find an ideal dark place for the crocks but that I can get to easily now and then to view the progress through the glass sides. I LOVE trying new foods and recipes!

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