Saltfish Buljol

   "What is Saltfish Buljol"? I asked the proprietor of a little Trinidad lunch spot as I perused the menu she had written on a chalkboard.  The name certainly sounded more authentic than the other pita bread sandwich options:  Ham & Cheese, Bacon and Egg, Tuna.

   "Jus saltfish stewed with some pepper and onions.  It's a local should try it," she encouraged.  And so I discovered my latest addiction.  Long before we had things like refrigerators or canned food, there was salted meat.  Back in the age of sail, when the new world was being explored, huge amounts of codfish were caught off New England and Canada.  To preserve it for long voyages, it was packed in so much salt as to make it pretty much inedible--even to things like flies and bacteria. 

   The earliest Caribbean settlers bought barrels full of the stuff.  And today, they still do.  And, as the saltfish display at the Port of Spain Market will confirm, it still needs no refrigeration!  In the USA, I remember seeing saltfish in grocery stores somewhere on the cooler--usually around the bacon, lard, and sandwich meat.  It comes in a cute little wooden box that you might think you could save for some other crafty purpose...until you smell the box.  Saltfish still smells fishy.  In the 90 degree, 90% humidity of the outdoor market here, it REALLY smells fishy.  Fortunately the fish man wrapped mine in paper and then plastic which seemed to contain the fumes so well that Kathleen had no idea what I was bringing back to the boat.

   To make saltfish edible again involves soaking it and changing the water several times to leach out the salt.  I would recommend sending any family members on an errand during the first boiling, but after that, the smell pretty much disappears.   Here in Trinidad, saltfish buljol is traditional Sunday dinner fare.  It has a unique flavor and texture that leaves West Indians all misty eyed and thinking of Grandma.  I didn't have those childhood memories to bring back, but it really is good.  So good that I had to come back and beg that Trini lunch counter lady for her recipe:


  1. To remove excess salt from the fish, bring the fish to a boil in a large pot of water. Drain the water, and repeat the process 1 or 2 more times until fish has only a slightly salty taste.  Drain the fish, flake, and press liquid out.
  2. In a large skillet, saute oil, onions, tomatoes, and peppers for 2 minutes. Mix in flaked saltfish, lemon juice, and hot pepper. Cook mixture at a low heat until the moisture has almost completely evaporated.
  3. Pile the mixture into the center of a serving dish, and arrange lettuce and avocado around it. (Some also serve with sliced boiled eggs)  Serve inside a warm pita bread to make a sandwich if desired.