When I was young, we always had a whole salted fish hanging in the kitchen like some dried up artifact from the museum. In fact, the smell of the salted fish and the well-used kitchen always gave me a comfortable feeling of home.
Salted fish was cheap, and it could keep, and was versatile. Needless to say it was a regular fixture on the dining table: steamed by itself or cooked in what seemed like 101 ways with meat and vegetables, or even in soups.
There are many kinds of salted fish in the market. The soft types have more pungent smells and intense flavors; they are great for steaming just on their own or cooked in combination with other meats, vegetables or fish. The hard types of salted fish usually need to be deep-fried before being consumed; they are great with fried bean sprouts or kailan.
Salted fish is no longer cheap; in Singapore and Malaysia, salted mackerel in the soft form are most prized. These particular variant comes from Malaysia and they are expensive.
My family firmly believed in not wasting any food; every part of the salted fish was put to good use, even the head. We’d cook the fish head in sauce or as a stew or soup. Here are two recipes that we usually prepared at home.
Salted Fish Pork Trotter Stew
Pork trotter (fore leg) 800 g, chopped
Garlic ½ kg, whole
Fried salted fish 3 tbsp.
Stock 3 cups
Salted Fish Sauce
Oil 6 tbsp.
Shallots 10, minced
Sugar 2 tbsp.
Garlic 5 minced
Salted fish/head 200 g, bone removed
Water ¼ cup
1. Boil pork trotter for ten minutes. Drain and rinse the trotter thoroughly than dry it.
2. Put trotter, 250 g of garlic, salted fish sauce and stock in a heavy saucepan. Rapid-boil the trotter for 10 minutes and continue to simmer for 1½ hours.
3. Replace the remaining garlic and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes.
4. Season it with sugar and salt.
5. Serve the trotter with the garlic, and sprinkle fried salted fish over it before serving.
Salted Fish Sauce
1. Sauté shallots and garlic until it turns translucent.
2. Add sugar and continue to fry until it is caramelized.
3. Add salted fish and water and simmer until it reduces by 1/3.
4. Cool and chill for further use.