Palamida: Fish preserved in salt

This post is for Kathy, who asked how to make Greek style preserved salted fish. In Spain, as in Greece, this is a classic appetizer.

Palamida is the Greek name of bonito, a small fish in the tuna family. In Sephardic kitchens (or at least in those of the Rhodesli), that’s the only name given to the salt-cured dish made from it. Reader Ino Alvo recalls the word soymas from the Salonican Jewish community.  I have yet to figure out the etymology of the word – probably Ladino – though it is at least partially based in Greek. The Spanish name for the same dish is mojama, which derives from mujaffifa (or something similar), an Arabic word meaning dehydrated. Language lesson over.

Curing, or “cooking” fish in salt is an ancient and universal preservation technique, used by the Vikings as much as by the ancient Greeks and Phoenicians – both of whom had trade colonies in Iberia thousands of years before the Arabs arrived.

If salting fish was commonly practiced among coastal peoples, it was the Portuguese who established Atlantic salt cod as a staple food throughout Europe beginning in the 1500’s (by that time the Portuguese traders were mostly conversos).

Let’s get back to the fish itself. The longer you leave fish – or anything – in salt, the harder and drier it becomes and the longer it can be stored. Gravlax – cured salmon, is left only a few hours in a mix of salt and sugar and it’s good to go, remaining supple and edible without need for any further handling. Bacalao, salt cod, is sold in varying degrees of saltiness, and must be reconstituted in cold water before proceeding with a recipe, sometimes for several days. Not so, mojama. Traditionally meant to be eaten as an appetizer, palamida/mojama is simply sliced very thin, marinated in olive oil and served as is or with sliced bread and a squeeze of lemon or orange juice, if you like (yes, of course you can use it in recipes to delicious effect).

here’s the recipe

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under History

8 responses to “Palamida: Fish preserved in salt

  1. kathy0330

    Thank you so much for remembering me! The history lesson is so interesting. Having a Turkish background my family and friends called it “Lakerda”. While in Turkey, a few years ago, we found it in the market simply sold in cans. I am excited to be able to make it soon, and enjoy a taste from my childhood! This was VERY appreciated!

  2. Ino Alvo

    After reading this post I member that the proceedure of salting the fish described is similar to the way soymas or soymecos I mentioned before are prepared, with the difference that a weight of heavy stones or bricks is placed on top of the fish,presumably to exact more water. The fish is left in this state for a forthnight or so. That is all I remember, as after all it was a long time ago when I was 7 or 8 years of age.
    Regarding the topic of lakerda being the equivalent of palamida (Παλαμίδα in Greek) and bonito, the facts I know are as follows:
    Smoked lakerda was available in abundance here in Israel in the 1950’s and 1960’s, at shops selling Greek specialties (Levinsky Street if anyone knows), but later disappeared altogether. Then the smoked palamida made its appearance as a substitute of Lakerda. But palamida is a small fish weighing around 600-700 grams; the palamida slices are much smaller than lakerda used to be.
    I have in my delicacies cupboard several tins of choice Spanish tuna labeled “Bonito del norte” which I understand is the name used by the Spaniards for tuna.
    And indeed they contain large chunks of big fish such as tuna, and certainly not of palamida-sized fish!
    That is why I stay puzzled on this issue!

    • Janet Amateau

      It is confusing, Ino! ‘Thunnus’ is a genus of saltwater fish, and within it there are several different species of what we think of as ‘tuna’ – Albacore, Bluefin, Yellowfin, etc. The confusion is compounded by our using a single word differently in different languages. While Bonito del norte is Albacore tuna, Bonito is not in the tuna genus at all (though it’s in the same family). And the Turkish word for true tuna is ‘palamut’, which is essentially Palamida, but it apparently refers to a different species altogether than the Greek word does…!

      That said, while lakerda may well be made from a single species of tuna, my understanding is that the word ‘lakerda’ refers specifically to the process of pickling that fish, not to the species itself. I would surmise then, that the smoked lakerda you recall might first have been pickled and then smoked. Would that fit with your recollection? Either way, its disappearance suggests to me that lakerda is (or was) made not from Albacore (a/k/a Bonito del norte) but from Bluefin tuna, which is on the verge of extinction from overfishing.

      Just to confuse you a little more 🙂

  3. Fascinating. My Italian relatives stopped making bacalao for the very reason you mention, the strong odor of the salt fish in close quarters. I have always loved fish- it solves all my kosher problems by being parve, plus it is healthy! LOL. I tend to find myself eating a lot of fish- plus I am in the midwest, many miles from a coastline, and fish to us had the connotation of luxury, much different from beef or chicken fed on the ample corn. I don’t want to be pesky, but did you get the e-mail I sent back in response to yours earlier this month? I know you’re busy, and writing, and have a life. I just want to know if you got it. 😀 sincerely Mark L.

    • Janet Amateau

      Yes, Mark, I got your lovely email – ALL of it! 😀 I promise I will write back, though perhaps in smaller chapters 😉 Best, Janet

  4. Can the used salt be recycled in some way.?To be used again the food process?

    • Janet

      No, not really. In the curing process, the salt absorbs moisture (water, oils) and the flavor of the raw fish.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s