Does Salt Cod Need to Be Refrigerated?

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Use salt cod to make complex and comforting stews.
Use salt cod to make complex and comforting stews. (Image: Eising/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Once considered a delicacy, salt cod has lost much of its favor with the age of refrigeration. This dried and salted fish predates refrigeration, and while it was traditionally stored at room temperature, modern sources recommend that you keep salt cod in your refrigerator for safety. Often called by its Spanish name, bacalao, salt cod's age-old preservation process lends a distinct flavor and texture to the otherwise bland cod.

Salt Cod Basics

Before freezing became the most convenient and efficient way to preserve cod and other fish, salting was the predominant preservation method. The salting and drying of cod distinctly changes its character and makes it suitable for a wide range of simple, yet flavorful dishes. Salt cod is used widely in Spanish, Italian and Caribbean cuisine to create soups, stews, fritters and salads. Refrigerate salt cod in its original packaging for up to one year.

Sourcing and Storage

Find salt cod in the fish department at a grocery store serving Latin American, Caribbean or Italian clientele. Salt cod is also sold at fine fish markets. Sold in a wooden box, salt cod is typically deboned, although small bones may still be present. To minimize odors from the rather pungent-smelling fish, wrap the container in one or two layers of plastic storage bags before storage. If you lack refrigerator space for extended storage, store salt cod in the freezer, as it will not affect its quality.

Getting It Ready

Before using salt cod, it must be soaked for at least 24 hours and as long as 72 hours before cooking. Fill a large bowl with cold water and add the salt cod to it. Refrigerate the cod as it soaks, and change the water every eight hours. For quick soaking, run cold water over salt cod in a bowl for 15 minutes. Add the salt cod to a pan with cold water, slowly bring it to a boil, then pour off the water. Replace the water with cold water and repeat this process two to three times before using the salt cod in your recipe.

Cooking Salt Cod

Salt cod is typically poached after soaking. Bring the salt cod to a boil with water or other liquid and continue simmering for about 20 minutes until the cod is tender. Remove any bones in the fish before flaking it and using in a recipe. Once cooked, salt cod is perishable and must be refrigerated within two hours of cooking to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Refrigerate cooked salt cod for up to three days after cooking.

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