Every year, between January and April, the Atlantic cod migrates to the nutrient-rich sea around Lofoten and Vesterålen off the coast of Norway in the artic circle.
And every year, since the 1100s, the fishers of this region have caught mature cod, brought it home, and hung it out to dry in the northern winds, the sun’s reflection in the snow tanning the fish a rich golden colour.
This natural process preserves the gutted and beheaded fish, reduces the water content and increases the protein content, 68-78% compared with 18% in fresh cod.
When fully dried the solid flesh has a concentrated aroma, and is stick-like, known as stockfish.
Once the stable of many coastal communities on the Atlantic fringe, cod need specific climatic conditions to dry completely in the open air. The people of northern Norway are the last to maintain this centuries old tradition.
Like the Norwegians, the Portuguese have a long tradition of catching cod in the north Atlantic.
Unlike the Norwegians, who fished off-shore, the Portuguese travelled further into the wide ocean to catch cod.
To preserve the fish they beheaded and gutted it on board and immediately immersed it in salt, completing the drying when they returned home.
This process resulted in a dried fish with a distinctive dark yellow colour, prominent flakes and an intense flavour.
The Portuguese have managed to continue this salting and drying tradition, safe with the knowledge that they are contributing to the longevity of an iconic food that is now truely legendary — Bacalhau | Bacalao | Baccalà!
Let’s start with the Portuguese tradition.
This is the basic version of their celebrated fish balls.
Bolinhos de Bacalhau
1 kg salt-dried cod, soaked for 48 hours in 12 changes of fresh water, skinned, deboned, shredded small 650 g potatoes, baked, mashed 2 egg whites, whisked into a stiff foam 30 g parsley, chopped 10 g white pepper, ground Olive oil, for greasing Vegetable oil, for frying Salt, large pinch
With wet hands combine the cod and potatoes in a large bowl, knead for five minutes.
Add parsley, pepper and salt.
Fold in the egg whites.
Grease hands with oil, shape into small balls or croquettes.
Shallow fry, drain on paper towels.
In 2001 a calender event of significance was noted when an assortment of Venetian artists, historians, restauranteurs, writers and baccalà lovers launched the Dogale Confraternita del Baccalà Mantecato.
Their aim was the dissemination of the traditional recipe – cod, garlic and olive oil – because baccalà mantecato is not just food. ‘It is history, religion, adventure, secrets handed down from cook to cook, from mother to daughter: the pleasure of the palate, mind, heart.’
Stockfish is imported into northern and southern Italy, to Calabria, Campania, Liguria, Sicily and Veneto, taking two-thirds of the Norwegian production.
In northern Italy they like their stockfish lean and thin, in southern Italy they prefer it fat and thick but in Venice they demand the best and it is graded as such, imported by fish merchants from the Polesine, south of the lagoon city.
In 2014 packets of stockfish cost between €23 and €40 a kilo in the shops and supermarkets.
Baccalà is stick, mantecato is beaten, thus whipped stick fish.
Legend has it that Venetian merchant Pietro Querini and 68 sailors sought refuge from a storm on the Lofoten Islands, where they witnessed the art of air drying the north Atantic cod, turning it into hard stick-like fish.
It is not known whether they brought recipes as well as dried fish from Norway.
That was in the 1430s. In 1563, after the Council of Trent and the directive on a required abstinence from meat, dried cod dishes were served every Wednesday and Friday in parts of Italy.
Bartolomeo Scappi, chef de cuisine of Pius V, established baccalà mantecato as a traditional dish.
This is the original recipe and method as determined by the Dogale Confraternita del Baccalà Mantecato.
250g stockfish, soaked for 48 hours in 12 changes of fresh water, skinned, deboned Olive oil 1 bay leaf 1 lemon Salt, pinch Black pepper, pinch
Put the cod in a pot, cover with lightly salted cold water and bring to a low boil, simmer for 20 minutes with lemon and bay leaf.
Whip the cod by hand with a wooden spoon, letting it absorb the drizzled oil ‘as if it were a mayonnaise’ to produce a shiny homogenous mass.
Season and finish with a little of the cod cooking water.
‘The dish is traditionally garnished with chopped parsley and accompanied by fresh or grilled Venetian white pearl polenta.’
stockfish, butter, flour, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, white pepper
stockfish, anchovies, bay leaves, breadcrumbs, cinnamon, fish stock, flour, milk, nutmeg, olive oil, pine nuts, raisins, sugar, white wine, seasonings
stockfish, flour, garlic, olive oil, tomato sauce, seasonings)
Alla Livornese – 1
stockfish, basil, garlic, olive oil, onion, parsley, red wine, tomato sauce, seasonings
Alla Livornese – 2
stockfish, chilli, flour, garlic, olive oil, parsley, tomatoes, salt
stockfish, celery, chilli, olives, olive oil, onions, potatoes, salted capers, tomatoes, salt
stockfish, black olives, chilli, flour, garlic, olive oil, parsley, salted capers, tomatoes
stockfish, bay leaves, carrot, celery, chickpeas, garlic, olive oil, parsley, rosemary, tomatoes, seasonings
stockfish, anchovies, breadcrumbs, butter, cream, parsley, white pepper
stockfish, anchovies, flour, milk, grana padano/parmigiano, parsley, olive oil, onions, seasonings
Brandade de Morue
The tradition in coastal Provence suggests a relationship with the Venetian version, the differences being added milk and extra garlic.
300 g stockfish, soaked for 48 hours in 12 changes of fresh water, skinned, deboned 110 ml milk, warmed 110 ml olive oil, warmed 4 cloves garlic, crushed, chopped small Salt, large pinch Black pepper, large pinch Water, for cooking
Put cod and a pinch of salt in a large pot, cover with sufficient cold water, bring to a low boil simmer for 30 minutes.
Flake, skin and remove any bones.
Warm milk and oil in separate saucepans over low heat, do not boil.
In a large bowl combine the cod and garlic, then gradually add the milk and oil, beating and breaking the flakes of fish with a strong wooden spoon to create a creamy mash.
Serve with a salad.
Brandada de Bacalao
This is an adaptation of Basque chef Martín Berasategui’s version.
500 ml cream 500 ml milk 300 g salt-dried cod, soaked for 48 hours in 12 changes of fresh water, skinned, deboned, shredded small 300 g potatoes, baked, mashed 45 ml olive oil 2 cloves garlic, minced 10 g parsley, chopped 2 sprigs thyme Salt, pinch White pepper, pinch
Place half of the garlic and the thyme with the milk in a saucepan, bring to a low boil, add cod. Remove from heat, cover and leave for 30 minutes. Drain, flake cod.
Sauté remaining garlic in the oil in a frying pan over a low heat for five minutes, add cod and potatoes, stir, gradually adding the cream.
Reduce over a low heat for 40 minutes.
Season and serve with with toasted crusty bread, garnish with parsley.
Empanada de Bacalao y Pasas
Not every flake of cod is whipped into a frenzy. Some pieces go into these delicious empanadas from Galicia.
Dough 300 g flour 1 egg 50 ml water, warmed 50 ml lemon juice/white wine 40 g yeast 20 g lard Salt, pinch Filling 500 g salt-dried cod, soaked for 48 hours in 12 changes of fresh water, skinned, deboned 200 ml olive oil 200 ml water 2 onions, chopped 100 g raisins 2 red peppers roasted, peeled, cut into small pieces 1 egg 15 g tomato sauce Saffron threads 1 tbsp chopped parsley 5 g pimentón Black pepper, large pinch Salt, pinch
Soak raisins in water.
Dissolve yeast in the water and wine.
Sieve the flour and salt into a bowl, add the egg and lard.
Fold out onto a clean surface, knead into a soft dough. Cover and leave to rise for an hour.
Fry onions over a gentle heat for 15 minutes, add pimentón, tomato sauce and parsley. Stir, then add the cod, peppers and saffron. Season.
Leave to cool.
Divide the dough into two pieces, roll each into a rectangle shape.
Place one sheet on a greased baking tray.
Preheat oven to 180ºC.
Place the filling on the first sheet, cover with filling, then the second sheet, crimp to seal the edges. Brush surface with egg.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Frityrstekt Bacalao med Hvitløksaus
And back up in Norway they are just as inventive with their cod.
… recipes to follow …
dried cod balls
dried cod gratin
Klippfisk med Grønnsaus
dried cod with green sauce
Norsk Bacalao Gryte
Norwegian bacalao casserole
Traditional Dried Cod Dishes
Stockfish photo courtesy of Norwegian Seafood.