Friday, March 2nd, 2012 | posted by mike
Way back in the days before refrigeration people who lived inland, often relied on preserved, salted and dried “salt cod”. It was inexpensive and could be stored for months. The Vikings air dried their “stockfish or Klippfisk” to preserve it and long before Columbus came to the New World, Basque fishermen were catching cod on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. They would split, salt, and dry the fish and not only did they create a nonperishable food to sustain them on their long trip back to Spain, but they started what became a huge trading commodity that would forever change the world. Politics, religion, colonization, slavery and a few cod wars are just a few topics that Mark Kurlansky covers in his fantastic book, “Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World”. If you’re at all interested in history and fish, you will love this book.
Salt cod in our country has never achieved the level of appreciation that it has in many other countries. I remember back when I was a kid (the 50s) people would buy the wooden boxes of Canadian salt cod at the grocery store mainly for Catholic Friday meals or because it was a really inexpensive meal.
Whether it’s a Spanish “bacalao” recipe, Italian “baccala”, Portuguese “bacalhau”, French “morue” or West Indian “salt fish”, there are some amazing recipes out there. What is it about this salty, dried out, hard and smelly fish that millions of people not only love but crave? All these countries that now have access to beautiful fresh fish (and refrigerators) still love their salt cod. I’ll tell you why they love it so much- it’s delicious! Think of the large flake and delicate sweet meat of fresh cod then condensing the flavor, firming the texture and creating a whole different creature. It’s really quite different than fresh and once you try it in any number of styles, whether it’s a French brandade , Spanish bacalao en salsa verde or Caribbean accras de morue, you just might, like me, become addicted.
Brandade is one of the most delicious things in the world, a warm, silky, garlicky, cod flavored spread that you dip your crunchy crouton into. What could be better? Accras de morue are salt cod fritters that are great with lime and hot sauce. One of my favorite preparations is a loose interpretation of a recipe from our buddy Dominic’s mother. He brought in a sample to the market one day that blew us away. I’ve tried to copy it and it’s not quite the same but my family loves it. It’s also kind of a dip although it would also be great served over pasta or on its own. This dish has whole cloves of garlic, roasted red peppers and kalamata olives.
I visited a store in San Sebastian, Spain that sold nothing but bacalao of all grades. The highest quality seemed to be lighter in color and was not as hard in texture as some of the more heavily cured codfish. Our market buys salt cod from Foley Fish in New Bedford, Mass. Whole, split, bone-in Georges Bank cod, these fish remind me of the finer Spanish bacalao.