Codfish: The Culinary Star of the North Atlantic Ocean
When diving into the vast world of seafood, one name frequently stands out: the codfish. Synonymous with culinary traditions across continents, the codfish holds not just a place of honor on our plates, but also in the annals of history.
Codfish, or simply cod, refers to a type of fish belonging to the genus Gadus. The most common species is Gadus morhua, which is found in the North Atlantic. Characterized by its mild flavor and distinct flaky white flesh, cod has been a staple in diets, especially in regions like Northern Europe, for centuries.
The natural habitat of the codfish is primarily the cold, deep waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. While they can be found spanning from the cold waters off Greenland all the way to the more temperate coasts of Portugal, certain regions are particularly famed for their abundant cod populations.
Regions such as Newfoundland in Canada, the coastal waters around Norway, the northern parts of the UK (especially around Scotland), and Iceland have been historically significant codfish hubs. These areas offer the ideal conditions for cod to thrive: a mix of cold temperatures, suitable depths and an abundance of prey like smaller fish and crustaceans. These conditions not only ensure the survival of the cod but also influence its unique flavor profile.
Traditionally, codfish were caught using longlines. This method involved baited hooks attached to a single, extended line. Fishermen would drop these lines deep into the North Atlantic's cold waters, hoping to lure cod with their bait. With the advent of technological advancements, trawling has become a dominant method for catching cod. Trawlers are large vessels equipped with massive nets. These nets are dragged along the seafloor or in midwater, gathering vast amounts of fish.
The Evolution of Cod in World Cuisine
Cod's culinary journey arguably began in Europe. The Vikings, as early as the 9th century, dried and salted cod (a process called "stockfishing") for their long voyages, establishing a preservation technique that would dominate cod cuisine for centuries. By the Middle Ages, the salted cod trade boomed in the ports of the Basque Country, and from there, it found its way into the kitchens of Spain, Portugal, and beyond.
In Spain, cod transformed into 'bacalao,' and in Portugal, 'bacalhau.' These countries developed a deep love for salted cod, incorporating it into countless dishes. Portuguese bacalhau à Brás (shredded cod with finely chopped straw fries and bound together with scrambled eggs) and the Spanish pil pil (a rich emulsion of cod, garlic, and olive oil) are but two of the countless recipes cherished in the Iberian Peninsula.
As European powers set their sights on the New World, cod traveled with them. The cod-rich waters off the coast of Newfoundland became a hub of activity. Salted cod became a valuable export, not just back to Europe but also to the Caribbean, where it played a key role in dishes like the Jamaican "stamp and go" (codfish fritters) and became a staple in many island nations.
Cod's mild flavor and flaky texture made it a favorite in Britain, where it eventually paired with chips to create the iconic "fish and chips." Wrapped in newspaper and often enjoyed by the seaside, this dish is a testament to cod's versatility and widespread appeal.
Today, cod's influence continues to evolve. It's celebrated in sushi restaurants in Japan as "gindara," forms the core of French brandade, and is grilled in Mediterranean kitchens with olive oil and herbs.
How to Cook Codfish
Among the vast treasures of the sea, codfish is celebrated for its delicate, flaky texture and subtle flavor. This fish has graced dinner tables across continents for centuries. Whether you're a seasoned chef or a home cook, understanding the nuances of cooking cod can elevate your dish from ordinary to extraordinary.
The versatility of this fish is a testament to its presence in diverse cuisines, from the hearty British fish and chips to the aromatic Portuguese bacalhau dishes.
- Grilled Cod: One of the simplest yet most flavorful methods, grilling cod with a brush of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt, and a squeeze of fresh lemon brings out its inherent oceanic taste. High heat quickly seals in its juices, ensuring a moist and flaky result.
- Baked Cod: A healthier alternative to frying, baking cod in an oven with herbs, spices, and perhaps a dash of white wine, makes for a sophisticated main course. When baked in parchment paper or foil, the fish steams in its juices, enhancing its delicate flavor.
- Fried Cod: The cornerstone of the iconic 'fish and chips', cod fillets are dipped in a seasoned batter and deep-fried to golden perfection. The result is a crispy exterior encasing a tender, juicy interior.
- Poached Cod: For a more delicate approach, cod can be gently poached in liquids like wine, broth, or a combination of both. This method, often paired with aromatic herbs, ensures the fish remains tender and succulent.
- Cod Stews and Soups: In many cultures, cod is the star ingredient in rich stews and soups. After being rehydrated, salted cod (bacalao/bacalhau) can be simmered with potatoes, tomatoes, and other vegetables, making for a hearty and comforting dish.
Codfish Brandade Recipe
Codfish Brandade, often referred to as "Brandade de Morue," is a classic Provençal dish made from cod, olive oil, and milk. It's a creamy, savory spread or dip that pairs perfectly with crusty bread or as a filling for savory pastries. Here's how to make it:
- 500g cod
- 1L whole milk
- 1 bay leaf
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 250ml extra-virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Fresh parsley
- Crusty bread or toast
Buy desalted codfish so you don't need to soak it overnight. Cover with the milk and add the bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low and let it gently simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Remove from heat and drain the milk, discarding the bay leaf. Once drained, transfer the cod to a large mixing bowl. Using a fork, start flaking and mashing the fish until it's broken down.
With the mashed cod in the bowl, gradually add in the minced garlic, continuously stirring or beating the mixture. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, a little at a time, while continuing to mix, until the mixture is smooth and creamy. If the mixture is too thick, you can add a little warm milk to achieve the desired consistency. Season with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of nutmeg if desired. Transfer the brandade to a serving dish, garnish with chopped parsley, and serve warm with crusty bread or toast.
Buy codfish for your recipes
Longino & Cardenal
Longino & Cardenal stands today as one of Italy's leading "food globetrotters." With passion and courage it carries out a continuous search for the best raw materials, often little known to most, in order to meet the new trends in consumer behavior that seek excellent products proposed in innovative forms. All our deliveries use specialized, refrigerated couriers.