The excellence of a well-cooked cod loin has hardly any equal in haute cuisine. Its vertical flakes’ pearly appearance sliding down its own jelly reminds us of how glaciers crumble into warm weather.
This fish has been the absolute emperor of European tables since the Norwegian Vikings, who colonized Greenland and reached the American continent in the 10th-century, discovered how to dry and preserve it. The tradition of drying fish may date back to Viking times, but salting fish began in the 15th-century when Spanish and Portuguese fishermen sailed to Newfoundland. Thus, the salted cod was kept in good condition during the voyage.
For Catholics, cod was the dominant resource to replace meat in the days when meat was forbidden because it was hot food (i.e., it made one think of sin). Since it came from icy waters, the clerics labeled it as cold food. It was first instituted as mandatory on Fridays, the day of the week on which Jesus died. And then it filled the calendar days when sinful food was to be avoided.
In the 16th century, historians estimate that 60% of the fish consumed in Europe was cod. In the Middle Ages, there was a real craze for this fish that has up to sixty known species, of which the Gadus morhua (the common or Atlantic) is the most flavorful jewel.
The golden age of large cod was the 19th century when fish weighing over 80 kilos (in 1895) and with the wingspan of a man (1896) were caught. Overfishing – thought impossible given that a female carries between 3 and 9 million eggs – arrived last century when the fish’s price and its shortage led to three wars between Iceland, which extended its territorial waters, and Great Britain and other allies, such as West Germany.
As of today, cod is the fourth most consumed fish, behind hake, sardines, and salmon, according to data from the European Commission’s Fisheries Market Observatory. After the United Kingdom and France, Spain is the third country whose households spend the most on cod.
SKREI COD: A TASTE OF NORWAY
Every winter, from mid-February to the end of March, something extraordinary happens off the Norwegian coast. Driven by instinct, large cod shoals return from the Barents Sea depths to their original spawning grounds, swimming up the country’s northern coast. These are the skrei, meaning nomad in Old Norse. And therein lies their difference: they arrive at their best, after having swum more than 1,000 km through rough and freezing waters. This heroic journey grants them exceptionally thick meat, unsurpassed in taste and texture.
It was the French chef Paul Bocuse, in the mid-seventies, who made it known, and it became famous as Norway’s national delicacy.
Delicious, versatile, and easy to prepare
Cod is an easy-to-cook and highly versatile product that allows for many recipes, from stews to salads. Moreover, since it is salted, it is not seasonal and available at any time.
It can be found in different cuts, the most appreciated being the loins and belly. The tail and the head with barbel are very savory parts with exclusive recipes.
You can find cod in various presentations: desalted, uncured, refrigerated, frozen, or salted.
In Spain, we have an infinity of recipes. Some of the best known can be found in the Paradores kitchens, such as cod ‘al pil pil,’ codfish with garlic, atascaburras, Yuste style cod, Baezana style cod, vigil soup, etc.
For all ages
Codfish is a very healthy dish due to its high nutritional and dietetic values, very necessary in all stages of life. Like other white fish, it has become a great ally in the fight against childhood obesity due to its low-fat content – under 1%. Likewise, athletes who require large protein intakes prefer this fish.
It is also particularly recommended for pregnant women, thanks to its iodine content. Finally, its consumption is advised for the elderly because it has a lot of vitamin B12, which helps stimulate the creation of red blood cells and helps the central nervous system.
Cod and its legends
400 years after the Vikings, Basque people claimed that the first cod they caught spoke to them in Basque. Catalans tried to take over its name, claiming that God, fed up with the talkative the fish was, told it to shut up (a callar! = bacallà). In New England, the claim was that the fishes Jesus multiplied according to the Gospels were codfishes.