Ling longing: a delicious traditional Irish fish
Don’t be put off if you are unable to buy salted ling– it’s very easy to make
Cava Bodega fishcakes: they’re simple to make but of course the fact they’re deep-fried and served with lemon mayonnaise makes them more desirable. Photograph: Julia Dunin
Though not as famous as its counterpart (salted cod), salted ling has long been a staple of rural Irish fishing communities. In his 1948 essay The Ling in Irish Commerce, published by the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Arthur EJ Went cites examples from 1364 (Ballycotton, Co Cork) and later in 1537 (Dungarven, Co Waterford) of the importance of this fish. During the 17th century, ling was exported from Galway to England and Spain. The ling is, according to Went, “an ancient Irish food” and “is part of the Irish heritage”. Salted fish was most likely introduced by the Vikings, who also introduced it to the Spanish.
Salted fish is as old as salt itself. As with cod, ling was preserved by salting and drying the fillets. In this way, it kept for a long time. Though the practice of salting ling has all but died away due to refrigerating and freezing, it is still sometimes sold in Cork. If you cannot find your own salted ling, it is easy to make. Simple liberally salt the fillets and leave for five days in the fridge. Drain off the brine as it collects at the bottom of the container. Rinse the fillet and then hang to dry in a cool place. Once hard it will last indefinitely. However, the harder the fillet the longer it will take to desalinate.
Often, I just leave them in the fridge (skip the drying phase) and place them in fresh water overnight at room temperature the day before I need them. We do this every week in Cava Bodega as salted fish cakes are one of the most popular things on the menu. They’re a simple combination of mashed potato, fried onion, salted fish and parsley. Of course, the fact that they’re deep-fried and served with lemon mayonnaise makes them more desirable. Poached salted ling in milk also pairs beautifully with the salty bitterness of fresh samphire, which is season in August. Gently poach the fish in warm milk for two-three minutes and serve with some fresh samphire and lemon.