How to Dry Fish: An Off-Grid Guide

by Oliver Guess | LAST UPDATED October 4, 2021

a hanging rack of fish drying
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Drying fish is an excellent way to preserve them for a much longer time without refrigeration. Fish meat is naturally high in protein, which makes it a great addition to pretty much any diet, but it also makes it incredibly prone to spoiling. Hence, drying fish is a great way to preserve and enjoy them for longer without worrying about them going bad.

Even if you buy a fresh fish caught the same day or catch one yourself, the meat starts to spoil almost immediately after the fish dies. Putting it in the refrigerator can buy you a few days before you need to throw it away, and freezing the meat might help you preserve it for around a month or so, as long as you don’t defrost it at least.

On the other hand, dried fish can last for over 6 months while still allowing you to maintain most of the nutrition and flavor of the meat.

There are a few notable methods that you can use to dry fish, and we’ll go over all of them in our article step by step so that you can do this in your own home and decide which method works best for you.

Pick the Right Fish

Drying fish

The point of drying the fish is to remove any traces of water from their flesh to stop bacteria from growing on the meat and decomposing it. Of course, microorganisms will develop in time, even on dry fish flesh, but the lack of water will slow this process by a significant margin.

Fish with a lot of fat contain a bit too much oil for drying to affect the meat, and they usually start to spoil within a week or two. That outcome is inevitable even if you already put them through the drying process.

We’d recommend skipping the following fish since they’re a bit too fatty for drying purposes:

  • Catfish
  • Sprats
  • Cuttlefish
  • Bombay Duck

We’d also recommend skipping any exotic Icelandic or Portuguese fish and simply sticking to whatever the fisheries can provide.

On the other side of the spectrum, there are plenty of choices when it comes to the sort of fish you could dry, but the best options, as far as we can tell, are the following:

  • Codfish
  • Croaker
  • Flounder
  • Haddock
  • Mackerel
  • Sardines

Before You Get Started

Before implementing any of the drying methods that we’ve listed below, the first thing you want to do is clean the fish. If this is your first time cleaning a fish, the process is pretty simple but might take a few tries before you pull it off.

What you’ll want to do is use a knife to get into the fish from the stomach, and then you’re going to cut upwards towards the head. Then, having opened the belly, you’re going to get a spoon or some sort of scooper to take out the innards and throw them away since you won’t need them.

Next, rinse out the cavity that you just emptied. Next, cut off the head just below the gills and use a smaller knife to remove the skin. Having done all that, all that’s left is to cut the fish, this time from the back, and divide it into two fillets just before you remove the spine and the bones.

It probably goes without saying, but this method is only really necessary for whole fish and wild-caught fish. If you buy the fish in your local market, you can still clean it yourself, but you could also ask the attendee to do that for you and save you a bit of trouble.

Stockfish

Stockfish

You’re then going to take your fish fillets and hang them on the lines of the drying racks and wait for 3 months until they mature enough.

That’s basically all you need to know about this method, but as you can imagine, not a lot of people use this method when the other two are by far quicker and easier.

Dehydrator

In order to make dry fish in a dehydrator, you’ll need to take your fish fillets and start patting them down with paper towels to get any residual moisture off of the meat. Then, you’re going to start cutting them into fish strips that are roughly a quarter of an inch wide.

You don’t need to get out the ruler since they don’t need to be exact measurements as long as they’re roughly the same size to ensure that they all dry at the same rate.

Next, you’re going to fill a bowl or plate with salt and coat the fish strips in it. After you’re done, you’re going to shake off any excess salt on the fish and use paper towels again so that you can get rid of any salt that’s not absorbed in the meat.

Finally, set the strips on the dehydrator (with a bit of distance between them) and turn it up to around 65℃. Around 12 hours later, your fish snacks are ready to be taken out and placed in jars, zip lock bags, or a container of your choice.

Oven

Set your oven to 180℃ and wait about 10-15 minutes for it to achieve temperature. While it’s warming up, you have just enough time to take the fish that you’ve cleaned and start salting them. The type of salt you use doesn’t matter, so you can just use whatever you have at hand.

Having done this, gently rub the salt into the meat and place the salted fish on a tray. You can put six fish fillets on the tray or just two; it doesn’t matter as long as you don’t overlay them and you give each piece enough space on its own.

After you put the tray into the oven, set a timer for 15 minutes. After the timer runs out, turn off the oven and leave the fish in there for a day. The next day, preheat the oven while the fish are still in there. Next, cook them again for 15 minutes, then turn off the oven, and return to do all of this again for the third day as well.

On the fourth day, you’ll be able to take the fish out of the oven and place them somewhere cool and dry in vacuum-sealed Tupperware, for instance, or any container that you have at hand.

Conclusion

One last piece of advice that we’d like to give is about items like prawns and dried squid. Cheap fish that are easy to find are worth drying because you can bulk-buy and store a lot of fish meat.

However, exotic fish like bonito and tilapia are too pricey and rare to be worth drying. On the other hand, Prawns and squid are a bit too tricky to get right, so we’d just skip them due to the difficulty factor. Just because you know how to dry fish now doesn’t mean that you should turn everything into fish jerky.

Only dry the fish that you can’t eat in the span of a few days and visit your local fisheries for the more exotic items since they usually have everything from dried anchovy packs to bonito flakes.

Oliver Guess
Oliver is an off-grid living enthusiast currently residing in the mountains of New Mexico. His interests in sustainability originally lead him down the path of an off the grid lifestyle. When he's not tinkering with his broken solar panels, Oliver enjoys searching out hot springs, whittling and cooking.

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