How Salt Cod conquered the Globe


” … as ill luck would have it, it occurred to be Friday and also there was absolutely nothing to be had at the inn yet some pieces of fish, which is called Abadexo in Castile, Bacallao in Andalucía, Curadillo in some areas …” Cervantes: Don Quixote, 1605.
We right here in Britain/US may think about it as salt cod, or stockfish, were we to think of it in any way – which is not likely. But as in so many other means, Spain varies from us as well on the concern of salt cod. Bacalao (to provide its most widely-used title) is elevated to epic, near mythological condition, a meal of iconic value in festival and also fiesta, a staple of such enormous compound it as soon as saved a city from siege. For the feeding of the multitude, the Forty Fishes aren’t even in it. With their holds stuffed with bacalao, Biscayan whalers crossed the North Atlantic to Newfoundland, and also the Spanish conquistadors reached the New Globe. In the Spanish language, cortar el bacalao, to ‘reduce the cod’, is to be the one in charge.


Worrying cod, composed records are questionable, but we can make use of at least a couple of sure realities. Absolutely the first Carlist Battle of the 1830s is a matter of historic document, as is the siege of Bilbao. An afterthought to the problem describes how a storekeeper of that city, before the break out of hostilities, purchased “some 20 or 22” bacalao from a trader. Certainly, in Spanish this would have checked out “20 o 22”, an order which some sloppy staff mis-recorded as 20,022. The considerable amount of bacalao showed up soon before the Carlists laid siege to the city. The shopkeeper, at first bemused however quickly pleased, prospered on the error, while Bilbao’s people saw out the siege on frugal provisions of healthy salt cod. To this day, spicy, garlicky bacalao al pil-pil and bacalao a la vizcaina, in a rich sauce of tomato as well as olives, are signature meals of Basque cuisine, and also no Bilbao bar would be without at the very least one type of bacalao-based, bite-size pintxo to offer the exquisite tippler.
The celebrity of bacalao in Spain seems a not likely sensation on the face of it. The flensed, dried out as well as crucified fillet looks anything yet appetising. Old-vest off-white in colour and also covered with a rough salty dandruff, its texture is of balsa wood and its scent faintly urinal. Get your preparation wrong as well as your bacalao’s an assault on the senses. My very first experience of bacalao was memorable, much less for the consuming than for the protracted spitting-out – of ranges as well as bones – as well as the gulping of beer to purge the briny aftertaste. Don Qixote, as well, was unfortunate, for: “… the property manager brought him a piece of that salt fish, but ill-watered and as ill-dressed …”.
A solitary experience ought to not colour one’s expectation and also in the company of Rafael Andrés, president of the Madrid Dining Establishment and also COFFEE SHOP Organization, I as soon as enjoyed bacalao so aromatic, so delicious and also tasty – its perfectly-cooked flesh yielding to the fork in damp flakes, the sauce abundant and also discreetly spiced, enhancing the cod to excellence – as to elevate senses to gastronomic paradise. And also the trick, the alchemy, the magic through which malodorous piece is transmuted to delicious delicacy is … love.
Yes, cariño, it appears, is all you require. That and also lots of time. First the rough as well as flaky littles the dry bacalao are trimmed, after that the flesh with skin attached is positioned in lots of fresh water as well as entrusted to saturate for no less than 1 day. 3 times the water need to be changed so regarding purge the unwanted sodium bicarbonate, and also to rehydrate the cod to its previous pale plumpness, to prepare it for the frying pan. The cod pieces are first boiled in an earthenware pot up until a white froth shows up, after that eliminated to a casserole meal as well as seared in virgin olive oil, to among a score of various recipes. From the retailer’s piece to the plate, the bacalao has to be treated with tenderness and also treatment. It must be watched-over, encouraged, coaxed as well as fooled into its edible role and in this, Spanish chefs are skilled.
Portuguese too, for in the issue of bacalao (or bacalhão, over the boundary) the Portuguese are if anything even more compulsive. They each consume some 10 kilos per annum, and also the Portuguese homemaker is stated to have 365 various ways of preparing the stuff. A straightforward search of the Net throws-up no fewer than 3,500 sites devoted to bacalhão. The Brazilians as well as various other Latin Americans are similarly partial, as are the French, Greeks, Italians, North Africans and also Norse. Bacalao has actually conquered the Iberian Peninsula and a huge portion of the world besides, yet its tale begins in the Basque lands of the Bay of Biscay.
From their scuffles with the Vikings, the Basques discovered that the hostile, bull-horned invaders took a trip on a diet of crude dried out fish. The resourceful Basques took hold of this concept and also improved it, by salting in addition to drying out, a practice they already utilized with whale meat. They additionally boosted the style of their very own boats, obtaining concepts from the Vikings. This remained in the nine century as well as, by the tenth, the long lasting top qualities of salt fish suggested that the Basques might expand their whaling expeditions method beyond the seaside shelf. Cod fishing was commonly carried out while on whaling expeditions, and the exceptionally low fat material of cod made it specifically suited to curing. As the whale supplies of the Bay of Biscay dwindled, a galley-full of bacalao would certainly make it possible for the Basques to mount extensive expeditions – first towards Galicia, after that northwards to the summer breeding premises of Iceland, the Outer Hebrides and the Faeroes. According to preferred misconception (and also some pieces of historical evidence), the Basques went after whale to Newfoundland years prior to either Cabot or Columbus made the crossing. Absolutely they fished those northern coasts by the fourteenth and also fifteenth centuries, when cod were six feet long as well as abundant, as opposed to the persecuted, limited and also small samplings these days.
It was the Basques who marketed cod items far and wide, and were responsible for making bacalao right into the peasant staple of southerly Europe. Its long-lasting popularity and fabulous flexibility (some sources declare thousands of bacalao dishes, yet this appears to be stretching credulity) suggest that it appears on menus around Spain, perhaps with a predominance in Vizcaya, Galicia and the North. Lately I tried ensalada de bacalao with onion, red peppers in the Southern community of Algar as well as bacalao al Mozárabe– cod Moorish style, with grapes in a pleasant sauce, in Priego de Córdoba. Empanada de bacalao disadvantage pasas, coliflor con bacalao, empanadillas de bacalao and also chorizos de bacalao con pasas are just a few even more example recipes.
Bacalao is famous for its numerous uses and also right here’s another. Stuck for a present to purchase? It’s lightweight, quickly transported, resilient and also nourishing. Give ’em bacalao!
Cod: A Bio of the Fish that Changed the Globe. Mark Kurlansky, Vintage, 1999. A 1,000-year history, as well as a story of the plundering of what was once one of the world’s richest food resources.
By Richard
Richard Robinson is a UK-based traveling author being experts in Spain. See his much-loved corner of Andalucía on
This write-up initially appeared in Living Spain magazine, a UK regular monthly magazine.

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