Drying ‘Opelu:




The following instructions on drying ‘opelu are borrowed from the wonderful book, "From Then to Now: A Manual for doing things Hawaiian Style" by Members of the ‘Opelu Project ‘Ohana (1996).



1. Start at tail. Push blade into flesh, keeping blade flat on top of the bone. Run blade along bone to head. Then turn fish on its back, cut head open so head splits open evenly and lays flat.


Keep knife flat with bone underneath blade. Slice all the way to the head.

Note: You can gut the fish after you split it open. This saves time when cleaning and drying lots of fish.


Opelu cutting

Opelu cutting



2. Make a second cut. First cut will open fish partial way. Take knife and start at tail, this time cutting same way except cut will go all the way to the back of the fish to that fish will spread open and lay flat.


Do not cut through back. You want the back skin to be intact so fish holds together as one piece.

3. If done properly, the fish will open and lay flat. Try to keep center bone intact, so fish holds its shape.


Opelu cutting
Opelu cutting


4. After fish is cleaned of guts, lay flat with fillet side up, and make a vertical cut along the spine, starting at tail going to head. Keep the spine intact—just cut along side.

The reason is to allow salt to penetrate the thickest part, to prevent “bad” fish. Badly salted fish smells bad, attracts flies, and makes your mouth itchy or mane‘o when eating.


Opelu cutting


Opelu salting

5. After fish are all cleaned and cut, you are ready to salt. Hawaiian salt is traditionally used. Get your container to salt in and salt fish liberally, gently laying salt well into open cavities—one motion—starting at the head and moving to the tail is usually sufficient. Shake excess salt off fish into container. Lay salted fish fillet-side up into a pan, or fold fish together. The idea is to let the salt soak well into the flesh. Usually fish is left overnight. Sometimes a solution of brine is used. Put into icebox if available.



6. Early next morning, put salted fish in fresh water. Take a brush and brush out the dried blood and excess salt. It’s important to clean fish well—gills and membranes with blood should be scrubbed out. Soak fish for 1/2 to 1 hour in fresh water. The length for soaking will determine the salt content in the fish. If no refrigeration is available, reduce soaking time so fish is a little more salty to preserve better.



Drying box


7. Put fish in dry box, fillet side down to drain water from the flesh. Turn over in 2 hours with cut flesh up, to sun dry. After the fish is taken in after the first day of drying, place fish on a flat surface or container with fillet side up. Place clean cloth on fish and press hard on fish with open palms for a minute. This will prevent dried fish from curling and present a better-looking product.



Drying Rack

Fish-drying racks at La‘au Fishing, Kawaihae, 2010.



Pacific Worlds > Hawai‘i: Kawaihae > The Sea > Fishing