Drying Fish

Explore the traditional method of drying fish with our beginner’s guide. From how they do it at sea, to how you can dry fish at home, we cover everything you need to know for success.

2 plates, one with dried cod and another with dried moxa

Over the years, in cultures all over the world, drying fish or salting it, have both been common methods of preserving food. Here in Spain, it is quite easy to find dried, salted fish for sale for use in a variety of recipes. Salted cod can keep very well for many weeks or even months. It also has a different texture and flavor than fresh fish.

Today, though, we will concentrate on how to make partially dried, unsalted cod and moxa (the blackmouth catshark). It is common for the fishermen here in Spain to dry these fish at sea, where the sun and sea breeze help dry the fish quickly. The end result is a firmer fish with a more concentrated flavor.

In other countries, like Norway, cod and similar fish are dried outside in cooler temperatures to make a dried fish called stockfish. Stockfish are normally very dry and are rehydrated before using them in recipes. On the other hand, Spanish dried fish is generally served partially dried, lightly cooked over a grill or flame, and covered in olive oil.

Why make it?

Partially dried fish is delicious and quite different from freshly cooked fish. The drying process decreases the moisture content of the fish, resulting in a firmer texture and a more intense flavor. It’s a great finger food, perfect as a snack or an appetizer.

Even if you don’t want to try making dried fish yourself, you might still appreciate seeing how it is made. Whether you’re a professional fisherman or a curious foodie, understanding the process of drying fish can provide a deeper appreciation for this beloved culinary tradition.

A plate with dried moxa (blackmouth catshark)


For this simple recipe, all you need is some fresh fish. Here in Spain, the most commonly used fish are cod (bacalao) and the blackmouth catshark (also known as moxa in our region of Spain). For drying at home, it’s best to choose smaller fish that will dry more quickly.

One moxa (blackmouth catshark) on a wooden cutting board.
Moxa (blackmouth catshark)

Drying fish traditionally

At sea, the fishermen tie the fish up on a string and hang them outside to dry. Fishermen have the ideal environment for drying fish quickly and safely. The sun and sea breeze help it dry quickly. Their distance from shore ensures that insects won’t contaminate the fish.

Moxa and cod hanging to dry on a fishing boat

To dry the fish, it must first be prepared by cleaning out all internal organs and rinsing the fish well. At sea, they use salt water to rinse the fish.

When using thick-skinned species like the Blackmouth Catshark (Moxa), they remove the skin and the thick spine. For cod, they leave the skin and bones intact.

Sun drying the fish at home

To get results most like the fishermen’s, it’s best to hang the fish outside in the sun on a breezy day.

Choosing an ideal drying location

When drying fish, choosing the right drying location is crucial to the success of the process. The ideal location should have plenty of sunlight and a constant breeze. Direct sunlight helps dry the fish evenly and prevents bacterial growth. A constant breeze keeps the fish from getting too moist. It is also important to ensure that the location is well-ventilated and not too humid, as high humidity can lead to spoilage and mold growth.

To help prevent contamination with insects, ideally, the fish should be protected with a netting of some sort. A local restaurant in Denia (Restaurante Armell) showed us how they built a drying case, enclosed in a mesh screen, that allows them to dry their fish without contamination.

Fish being dried in a mesh screen box
Fish drying box

You should check the fish regularly during the drying process to make sure it is drying evenly and there is no spoilage or mold. Occasionally inspect the fish by looking at it and feeling its texture to ensure that it is drying evenly. Also monitor the temperature, humidity, and airflow, as these factors can all impact the drying process.

At sea, it took the fishermen 2 days of drying to get the desired results. At home, be prepared for it to take longer.

Modern methods of drying fish

If your weather or location makes it impossible to dry your fish outside, you can dry it in an oven or a dehydrator. I tried experimenting with drying some moxa in my dehydrator and it worked quite well. For best results, use a very low heat setting similar to the temperature outside on a hot summer day. I dried mine at around 40ºC/100ºF. Even at a low heat setting, my fish dried very quickly in dehydrator, much more quickly than it took them at sea. (I could dry mine within one day while theirs took two days of drying.) I suggest aiming for a temperature of 30-40ºC/90º-100ºF.

My finished fish was slightly thinner and stayed longer in length than the dried moxa my husband brought home. In hindsight, that’s probably because I didn’t prepare the fish in the same way. I completely filleted the moxa, while they only removed the spine and left both sides connected. While that seems like a small detail, it makes sense that a different cut could dry differently. Next time I experiment with drying moxa at home, I’ll try cutting the fish in the same way that they do aboard the boat.

Cooking and serving

Sun dried fish is generally lightly cooked and drizzled in olive oil before serving. On the boat, they generally use a large grill and cook the fish, flipping contantly, until it gets slightly charred.Once cooked, they cut the dry moxa into small pieces and drizzle it with olive oil.

At home, I generally cut it into smaller pieces and pan fry it in a little bit of olive oil, but it can be done without oil. Some people prefer cooking it over an open flame or even a bbq grill.

No matter what method you use for cooking the sun dried fish, it’s best served with plenty of olive oil and eaten warm.


Once the fish has been properly dried, it should be stored in a cool, dry place. It is important to avoid storing the fish in areas with high humidity or temperature, as this can cause it to spoil. Ideally, store the fish in airtight containers or vacuum-sealed bags to prevent moisture from entering and spoiling the fish. Removing some humidity helps extend the shelf life of the fish, but it is only partially dried and should be consumed within a few days. If kept too long, the fish will develop an ammonia flavor that makes it unpleasant to eat.

2 plates, one with dried cod and another with dried moxa

How to Dry Fish

Explore the traditional method of drying fish with our beginner's guide. From how they do it at sea, to how you can dry fish at home, we cover everything you need to know for success.
Print Recipe
Prep Time:20 minutes
Drying time:2 days
Total Time:2 days 20 minutes


  • Fish (Like cod or blackmouth catshark)


  • Clean and gut the fish. Make sure to remove the internal organs completely, as they can spoil the fish during the drying process.
  • For thick-skinned varieties like the blackmouth catshar, remove the skin and fins. You can also remove the backbone for more even drying and easier eating.
  • Rinse the prepared fish.

Sun drying outside

  • Find a well-ventilated, sunny area, preferably outdoors. Hang the fish by their tails. Make sure to leave enough space between each fish to allow air circulation. Depending on the weather conditions, the fish may take seevral days to dry completely.
  • Once the fish are dry and firm to the touch, they are ready to be stored. Place them in airtight containers or sealable plastic bags to protect them from moisture and pests. Store the dried fish in the refrigerator or a cool, dark place, such as a pantry or cellar.

Drying inside

  • You can achieve similar results at home by using a dehydrator at a low temperature (around 30ºC/90ºF). You can also try using an oven with a fan if it's lowest temperature setting is very low.

Cooking the dried fish

  • Once the fish is quite firm and holds its shape, you can remove it from the line or dehydrator.
  • Grill the dried fish over a pre-heated grill or over an open flame. Larger fish without a spine can be cut into small pieces before or after cooking it.
  • Drizzle the fish with olive oil and enjoy it while still warm.



When it comes to drying fish, not all types are suitable. Look for fish with low oil content and firm flesh, such as cod, haddock, or flounder. Here in Spain, cod and the blackmouth catshark (moxa) are commonly used. 
Using a dehydrator will be much quicker than sun drying. Take care not to overdry the fish. 
Unused dried fish should be stored in a cool, dry place and used up within a few days for the best flavor. 
Plato: Aperitivos, Para picar
Cocina: Mediterraneo
Keyword: Dried fish
Author: Dr. Tracy Ariza

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