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).