Salt Fish Marinara (Baccala alla Marinara)
My mother always said fish was brain food and ate a lot of fish. She snacked on sardines and tuna and loved any fish we caught and cooked it for herself if no one else wanted fish. She died at the age of 93 with her brain still functioning and her wit and wisdom intact. I eat a lot of Fish because I like it.
When I first started my lifestyle change, I went to a nutritionist who also supported the consumption of large amounts of fish and the use of a fish oil supplement for improved cardiovascular health and this was definitely not a problem for me. Now that I have been living my new life style for two and a half years I am satisfied with my weight and excercise program so I have started to focus on what I eat. Unfortunately, fish has a tendency to concentrate the highly toxic environmental pollutant methyl mercury. Methyl Mercury is so toxic that a few drops on the outside of a scientist’s protective rubber glove which was cleaned and disposed of instantly still caused death within five days by skin adsorption.
Around 2000, the FDA and EPA put out a joint advisory that women who wanted to get pregnant, were pregnant or lactating should stop eating fish. Many did and the results proved my mom knew what she was talking about. Seems that scientist found a benifit for children of women who ignored the warning and continued to consume ocean fish. Their children had advanced cognitive and motor skill development compared to the children of women who skipped fish in the diet. Moreover, resent research reports from the University of California at Berkley document that eating fish can play a positive role in mental health. Some interesting preliminary studies suggest that fish oil, usually in the form of supplements because they are easy to use in research, may be of some help in treating bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression) and schizophrenia.
I never stopped eating fish as the probability of me being pregnant or lactating is remote and at least two (anchovies and tilapia) of the four fish that I regularly eat are low in mercury. I am not too worried about the high mercury level in ahi tuna as I can’t afford to eat it very often. The other fish I love has been worshiped in a bawdy calypso song by the Mighty Sparrow.
Nothing in the world sweeter than
English, colloquial, Bajans
It’s sweeter than meat
When you want to eat
All saltfish sweet
If you look up the health benefits of saltfish, people who are not familiar with cooking or eating this fish condemn it for it’s high salt content. If you check Mediterranean or Caribbean Recipes, you find the salt is extracted from the meat over 24 hours with multiple water washes and you sometimes have to add flavor to the pot because all the salt has been removed.
The meal pictured above was actually closer to my Perfect Puttanesca because after washing the saltfish, it had very little flavor. You don’t lose the protein or oil by soaking the fish just the salt. Since I was just starting the meal, I used the following ingredients to build more flavor.
Tablespoon extra virgin Olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic minced
1 large yellow onion -diced
Thin slice scotch bonnet hot pepper or crushed red pepper to taste
3-4 thin pieces of anchovies the size you get on pizza -diced
1 sprig basil with leaves
1 fresh bay leaf
Can of diced tomatoes.
4 to 6 ounces of well washed saltfish
1. The oil, garlic, onion, anchovies pepper, bay and basil are placed together in the coffee pot and and sautéed for about two hours
2. The capers are added to the pot along with the can of tomatoes. Stir and let cook 2-4 hours
3. About 1 hour before dinner, add the saltfish.
Serve with Pasta
A final thought is that all saltfish is not created equal. The three main variety of fish are Ling, Cod and Alaskan Pollock. Ling and Cod have high mercury levels so Alaskan Pollock is the preferred choice. Even at that, the recommended amount of Ling and Cod is no more than 12 ounces of fish per week I eat 4 to 6 ounces of saltfish about once a month so I guess it really wouldn’t matter which one I chose. Given that they are all available and all about the same price, I guess I’ll stick with Alaskan Pollock.