Salt fish has a terrible past in the Caribbean. With the physical, mental and spiritual terrorism perpetrated by colonists, human-trafficked Africans and indigenous peoples were not paid for their work but were assigned pounds of salted fish and provisions per week. With such low quality food that lacked nutrition, the oppressed peoples turned the salted fish into a nutrient-dense, tasty side dish.
Today, saltfish buljol is enjoyed as a simple side dish made with fresh or sauteed veggies, herbs, and shredded salted fish, that has been boiled and drained to remove the excess salt. It’s almost like a simple fish salad and is often served with coconut bake or bread for breakfast or dinner.
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Ingredients for saltfish buljol
Saltfish buljol can be made with any leftover veggies in the fridge and can be adjusted based on your favorites. Here’s what I had on hand for this recipe.
- saltfish: any fish cured with excessive amounts of salt can be used for this recipe. Salted cod is most often used and can be purchased in the supermarket. Salt fish sold in the farmers’ market can include locally caught fish like pollock. You can also find saltfish on Amazon.
- water: this is needed for boiling the saltfish to remove the excess salt.
- onion: adds a wonderful sharp element to the buljol. This can be used raw or sauteed with oil and other aromatics like garlic.
- pepper: fresh peppers like pimento and scotch bonnets can be used here or substitute with a little black pepper or paprika.
- vegetables: any vegetable can be used for making the buljol. You can use one or two veggies or add a whole bunch. Here I am using tomatoes, cabbage, and cucumber but you can also add chopped bell peppers and thinly grated carrots.
- fresh herbs: Caribbean herbs like chadon beni or culantro and cilantro add fresh, herbaceous flavor to the buljol.
- vegetable oil: needed if you plan on sauteeing the veggies.
- salt and pepper: after boiling the fish and mixing in the veggies, you may need to add more salt and pepper. Adjust to your taste preferences.
- lemon or lime juice (optional): helps to remove any fishy smell or taste, if there is any.
- avocado (optional): this adds healthy fats to the buljol that already has protein from the fish and good nutrition from the veggies.
How to make saltfish buljol recipe
Prepare the saltfish
Step 1: Place a small pot on medium heat with water. Bring to a rolling boil.
Step 2: Rinse the saltfish a couple times before adding to the boiling water. Leave to boil for 10 to 15 minutes. The point of boiling is to remove the excess salt from the fish so it is palatable. With some brands, you don’t need a long boil time but, for the ones bought in the farmers’ market, it’ll take longer to get the salt out.
Step 3: Drain the water. You can do a quick taste test to check if the fish is no longer overly salty. If it is still too salty, boil the fish again with water for another 10 minutes.
Step 4: If the fish has the right salt level, then remove its skin and bones, if there is any. Shred the fish with a fork and set aside.
Prep the other ingredients
Step 5: Wash and finely chop the vegetables and herbs you plan on using for this recipe.
Choose your preferred method
Once the ingredients are prepped, you can make buljol in one of two ways: (1) raw or (2) cooked. For the raw method, mix the shredded fish with the raw veggies, herbs, and optional ingredients (like lime juice and avocado) and serve cold. The cooked method involves sauteeing the veggies before mixing in the fish and optional ingredients. I’ll explain the cooked method in the remaining steps.
Step 6: Place a small saucepan on the stove on medium heat. Add vegetable oil and allow to heat up.
Step 7: Add the shredded fish, chopped onions and pepper. Leave for about 2 minutes for the onions to become translucent.
Step 8: Add the vegetables like cabbage, tomatoes and herbs. Allow to cook for another 2 minutes.
Step 9: Turn off the heat and allow to cool for about 5 minutes.
Step 10: Mix in the optional ingredients, if you are using them. Here I added cucumber, avocado pieces and lemon juice.
Saltfish buljol recipe
- 150 grams salted fish (like cod)
- 1 liter water (for boiling)
- 1 onion
- 2 pimento (or any pepper)
- 1/2 cup tomatoes (about 2 tomatoes)
- 1/2 cup cabbage, shredded (1/4 small cabbage)
- 1 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves
- 1 tbsp fresh chadon beni (culantro) leaves
- 1 tbsp oil (for cooked method only)
- 1 tbsp lemon or lime juice (optional)
- 1/2 cup cucumber (1/2 a cucumber) (optional)
- 1/2 cup avocado (1/2 small avocado) (optional)
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- Add a small pot on the stove on medium heat.
- Pour in the water. Bring to a boil.
- Rinse the salted fish.
- Add to the boiling water.
- Leave to boil for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Taste test the fish. If it is still too salty, repeat the first 6 steps with clean water.
- If the fish is enjoyable, remove the skin and bones, if any.
- Shred the fish and set aside.
- Wash and finely chop the onion, pimento, tomatoes, cabbage, cilantro and chadon beni. Prep any optional ingredients like cucumber and avocado.
- Mix the chopped ingredients and shredded fish together.
- Adjust salt, pepper and citrus juice to taste.
- Serve cold as a side.
- Place a small saucepan on medium heat. Add vegetable oil.
- Toss in the shredded fish, chopped onions and pepper.
- Cook for 2 minutes, until the onions are translucent.
- Mix in the tomatoes, cabbage, cilantro and chadon beni.
- Cook for another 2 minutes.
- Turn off the heat. Cool for 5 minutes or so.
- Add the optional ingredients like cucumber, avocado and citrus juice.
- Mix. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve warm as a side.