Salt Cod and Herring, West Indian Style

The French make Brandade de Morue; Italians make Baccalà. My friend, Vee Fitzgerald of wineLIFE, whose family comes from Dominica (between Guadeloupe and Martinique) grew up eating salt fish for Sunday brunch after church. She taught me how to prepare it in my Brooklyn kitchen, and we had fun chopping, chatting, and pairing it with wine.

The keys to these tasty dishes are finding fish with good texture, authentic West Indian red hot pepper sauce, and vegetables with vibrant colors. Buy salt cod belly from a fishmonger, rather than packaged salted tail fillets at the supermarket. It will retain its shape rather than turning to shreds. Immerse it in water for three days, refrigerate, and change the water a couple of times each day before use. This will rehydrate the fish and get rid of the excess salt. Also, use a West Indian hot pepper sauce, such as Grace, not Tabasco, which has too much vinegar and salt for these dishes. Otherwise, use diced, hot and spicy Scotch Bonnet peppers. Red, yellow and green bell peppers enliven the presentation, and adding fresh cilantro at the end adds another fresh flavor and texture. (Recipes below.)

Salt Cod with Peppers and Hot Pepper Sauce

PREPARATION: Soak salt cod for three days in refrigerator, refreshing the water twice a day.

Remove skin from the cod with a sharp knife. Slice the fish into bite-size pieces.

Sauté sliced yellow onion and diced garlic in canola oil on high heat.

Add sliced peppers; stir with tongs.

Add salt fish. Move ingredients around pan so they don’t stick.

Add 1 tsp pepper sauce.

Serve with lime and cilantro.

ACCOMPANY WITH: a salad of sliced cumbers, onions, thinly sliced celery, curly parsley, oil, and white or apple cider vinegar.

WHEN TO SERVE: Delicious hot or chilled for lunch or appetizer.

WINE: Perfect with Bouquet Rosé. The wine’s fruitiness and sweetness made a beautiful contrast with the cod’s savory and spicy flavors.

Salt Fish Fritters

PREPARATION: Soak salt cod for three days in refrigerator, refreshing the water twice a day.

Cut the cod into small pieces, the size of sugar cubes.

Combine 1 c flour, 1 tsp baking soda and ½ tsp salt in a large bowl.

Add the sliced cod to the dry mixture.

Add diced garlic and scallions.

A batter will form with a doughy consistency.

Add diced red pepper and pepper sauce.

Fry a sample test fish cake, the size of a small pancake and lightly browned. Adjust salt for flavor or peppers for color.

ACCOMPANY WITH: a strong flavored sauce, such as a sweet and spicy dip or aioli. The flour gives the cod a more subtle or neutral flavor, rather than a spicy taste.

WHEN TO SERVE: Fry and eat; it’s not as good when re-heated. Great for brunch or lunch.

WINE: Vee and I liked this with Bouké Perlant, a crisp, light-bodied, lightly effervescent wine.

Herring with Spicy Tomato Sauce

PREPARATION: Buy smoked herring from a smoked fish store, with the bone in. Without bones, the texture is too mushy.

Peel off the skin and lift out the spine of the herring. Cut in half and remove the bones with fish bone tweezers or by hand. There are a lot of bones in herring. Slice into bite-size pieces.

Sauté a sliced yellow onion, diced garlic, and sliced peppers.

Move them to one side of the pan to make space for the herring. Sauté the fish briefly.

Move them to one-third of the pan to make space for balsamic vinegar. Heat and stir.

Add 2-3 TBSP tomato paste and ½ tsp pepper sauce; stir.

Add thinly sliced tomatoes.

Plate and top with cilantro.

ACCOMPANY WITH: “bakes,” also called Johnny Cakes. Made with flour, salt, sugar and milk but without eggs, they are similar to savory pancakes. (We served it with couscous, and Vee loved the cross-cultural combo.)

WHEN TO SERVE: Excellent hot or chilled. Filling enough to be a main course.

WINE: Although this is a fish dish, we liked it best with Bouké Red, which tastes great with tomato sauces.

Salt cod is sometimes served as a delicacy at restaurants. Brandade de Morue is puréed salt cod, potatoes, cream, garlic, thyme, cloves, bell peppers and lemon.

Baccalà is also salt cod, sometimes cooked with olive oil, black olives, onions, tomatoes and oregano. I found basic, packaged, salted, boneless, skinless pollock fillets for $4.99/pound, which is hard to beat, at the grocery store, but am happy to have found a quality piece of salted cod fish with good texture from our local fish store.


2 lbs salt fish

1 package of BONE IN smoked herring

1 large yellow onion

1 head garlic

1 each: green, red and yellow bell peppers

1 bunch of scallions

2 plum tomatoes

1 can tomato paste

Balsamic vinegar

1 bunch fresh cilantro

West Indian hot pepper sauce

All-purpose flour

Baking powder

This entry was posted in Effervescent Wine, Pairing Wine and Food, Red Wine, Rosé, Wine and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Salt Cod and Herring, West Indian Style

  1. fish fry says:

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