Dry Codfish – our bacalhau – the Portuguese food symbol
Codfish is the icon of the Portuguese gastronomy, which offers more than 600 different ways of cooking this fish that conquered us long ago.
Dry Codfish or in portuguese the famous bacalhau is the king of the Portuguese food. Throughout times it has always been present at our tables no matter the occasion and it is a required ingredient of the Portuguese Christmas supper. I believe that dry codfish is part of our collective DNA; we even consider it as a friend, our “fiél amigo” (loyal friend), as we name it.
The love affair between the Portuguese and dry codfish lasts for centuries and, funny as it may seem, it started with a chance encounter – well, if we think about it, don’t almost every successful relationships begin by chance? In fact, if dry codfish hadn’t blocked the passage of the Portuguese 16th century caravels on the North Sea maybe this love story wouldn’t have happened. Fortunately, destiny worked for the best and it was love at first sight. A love than grew stronger and stronger, placing Portugal on the top of the list of world’s dry codfish importers and drags our fearless fishermen to face the icy and dangerous waters of the North Sea.
Its unique taste, nutritional qualities and immense versatility turn dry codfish as our favorite fish and a symbol of the Portuguese food. To prepare it imagination is the limit; therefore there are countless dry codfish recipes. Have no doubts, in Portugal we can prepare a different dry codfish dish everyday of the year. It’s a piece of cake! When we say we can prepare it in “a thousand and one” different ways, we aren’t kidding, we are just exaggerating a little bit, as there are only over 600 ways of cooking dry codfish. Bacalhau à Lagareiro, Bacalhau à Narcisa, Bacalhau com castanhas, Bacalhau à Brás, Grão com Bacalhau or Soufflé de Bacalhau are some of the recipes we can’t live without.
This creativity on what concerns this fish coming from distant shores was encouraged during the Middle Ages when the consumption of meat was forbidden during Lent. So, why not eat dry codfish? After all it was a cheap and abundant fish by those days. Nowadays, things are a bit different. Codfish is no longer cheap and it surely isn´t abundant on the cold waters of the North Sea. On the contrary, unfortunately codfish is in danger of extinction if the rules established to preserve it aren’t followed.
Codfish is consumed all over the world but what really distinguishes the Portuguese consumption is that our codfish is dry and salted, not fresh. And this detail makes the difference between an insipid ingredient and a vibrant one that pleases the tastes not only of the Portuguese but also the many visitors that came each year to Portugal. Therefore the small effort of leaving the cod to soak is well compensated by the extra taste you get when using salted codfish. So, don’t be lazy, you just have to put the fish steaks in water for a few hours, changing the water three or four times. It’s easy, isn’t it? I mean you don’t need a degree for doing this, don’t you agree? Have it a go and you will became as addicted to dry codfish as we Portuguese are.