As part of my ongoing experiments with whole small fish (sardine, smelts, small mackerel), I'm considering drying them at home to produce concentrated umami bombs.

However, I'm admittedly less than thrilled with the instructions I've seen online, which either advise leaving them exposed to the air for an extended period--in which case I fear rapid spoilage and a truly horrible smell--or sticking them in the oven--the idea of which I like more, but which apparently yields a tough 'fish jerky,' which is also not what I had in mind. I've also noticed that most instructions just assume the fish will be gutted, but with fish so small (the ones I get are generally between 5 and 7 cm long, with few going past 9) I generally like to leave the guts in.

What would be the safest method for drying small, oily fish for future use? Should they be brined first for sanitation purposes?

  • Hmm... Interesting question. It's funny you mentioned brining, because my initial reaction was to salt pack them. I'm not sure how they'd taste being so small with that much salt though. – RubberDuck May 29 '15 at 11:22

Considering the option of leaving them extended period in open air sounds good depending upon where you live. The climate takes a important role. If there is humidity don't do that and there should be strong sunlight for a long period of time. It will remain safe, just cover it with a thin net so it won't get spoiled by insects. I have done it a lot of time previously so i am not worried. In this method, you can constantly observe them dry so that you can control as well.

Regarding putting them in oven, you may feel secure as you clean your oven and the food is free from external spoiling effects.

But, personally I prefer the sun because the flavour will be far better if exposed to sun for long period of time. You are supposed to clean them thoroughly and brine is just an option for taste, that is not compulsory.

I hope it helps...

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