How to preserve seafood by dry and wet salting

There are two basic methods of preserving food with salt: dry salting and wet salting (brining). Salt at appropriate concentrations inhibits the growth of bacteria and also aids the dehydration process. Salting is often done before other preservation or preparation methods such as smoking, although it can also be done simply to add flavour.

Dry salting is used to draw the moisture out of food, which helps to reduce the growth of unwanted bacteria.

Brining is a wet cure equivalent of dry salting. The brine, a flavoured solution of salt or sometimes sugar, both draws out moisture and permeates the seafood. The salt and sugar also inhibit bacterial growth.

Equipment required

Glass, enamel, glazed ceramic or stainless steel (never aluminium) container

Dry salting

Process

  1. Place prepared seafood in a single layer in a container. Sprinkle generously with salt. Turnover and salt the other side. Another layer can be placed on top and the salting process repeated. Use about a quarter of the seafood weight in salt.
  2. Cover, and leave in a cool place (20°C or less) for the required time. In hot weather it is preferable to store in the chiller.
  3. Rinse under cold running water.
  4. Dry with disposable paper towels.

After salting, finfish can be served "as is"—for example as in gravalax—or dried or smoked to further preserve it.

Wet salting

Process

  1. Mix brine. A strong brine is made by dissolving about 270 g of salt in a litre of water; a weak brine requires about 120 g of salt.
  2. Submerge the seafood in the brine for the required time (a strong brine will require a shorter time than a weak brine), in a cool place (20°C or less). In hot weather it is preferable to store in the chiller.
  3. Wash well under cold water.
  4. Dry with disposable paper towels.
Seafood

Approximate times for salting

Gilled and gutted finfish or large fillets

 

2 kg or more
1.4–1.8 kg
0.7–1 kg

12–14 hours
8–9 hours
5–6 hours

Small fillets or pieces

 

500 g or more
250–500 g
100 g or less

1 hour for each 500 g
1 hour
30 minutes

Salting times

The salting time varies. For example:

  • Skin slows the salt absorption
  • Exposed flesh absorbs salt more quickly
  • Firm-fleshed seafood takes longer to absorb salt than soft-fleshed seafood.
  • Oily finfish need about 25% longer than non-oily finfish
  • If the seafood is placed in the chiller while salting, the time needed is significantly increased, even doubled.