Bake is a staple in a Trini kitchen. It’s the thing that our mothers made when they needed some type of bread or to bulk up a meal in a pinch. It can be baked, deep-fried or pan-fried, but delicious all the same. Traditionally bake is eaten with saltfish, but I like to use it in place of bread as often as I can – because it’s delicious, simple and reminds me so much of home.
If I had to choose one dish steeped in memories and nostalgia from my mom’s kitchen it would be saltfish. Made from salted cod sautéed in sweet onions and tomatoes, it was her go-to breakfast on Sunday mornings before we all rushed out the door to go to church, as well as her go-to dinner dish on hectic weeknights when someone forgot to thaw meat from the freezer. The way my mom made it had the perfect balance of salty fish, almost-caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes that would soften in the pan, all topped with the brightness of green onions to finish – but I am well aware that every household has their own way of making it, not to mention the addition of ackee popular in some Caribbean islands. Either way, the dish requires nothing more than pantry staple ingredients.
Preparing saltfish requires a touch of patience though, as the cod fillets need to be purged of some of the excess salt of course. But don’t worry, that’s the “hardest” part of this recipe – the rest is all kinds of easy. A tip when purchasing salted cod: if you can, choose the kind that comes as the whole fillet rather than the smaller bits. Using the smaller bits is perfectly fine, but please be sure to taste it after the second simmer to see if another is needed to release more of the salt.
Note: If you like your saltfish less salty than I do, simply add 5 minutes to your simmering times to extract even more salt.