Thursday, December 9, 2010

Salted Cod, Bacalhau in New England

Salted Canadian Cod at Whole Foods for sale in Massachusetts
Our life slowly gets back to normal after the recent family drama.
We have aquired a healthy habit of eating fresh caught local New England cod. However while grocery shopping this afternoon I found one of my favorite foods, "Dry Salted Cod", my favorite is baked salted cod, I enjoy it Portuguese style which is baked in the oven with onions, black olives, hard boiled eggs, potatoes and lots of extra virgin olive oil, it is beyond delicious, it reminds me of Sunday dinners with family back in Brazil.

Baked Salted Cod Portuguese style, known as Bacalhau in Brazil

Bacalhau or Salted Cod is today found in Northern European cuisines as well as in Brazil, Portugal, Italy, parts of France and Spain.
Salted Cod has been traditionaly produced by Canada, Iceland, Norway and Portugal for half a milenia.
The name Bacalhau is originated with the Native Americans of the Newfoundland region from the mouth of the St.Lawrence River in Canada, when Scandinavian settlers arrived in the area some 500 hundred years ago, they learned how to Dry and Salt the Cod to preserve it, the Native Americans called it Bacal, hence the name Bacalhau.
Drying preserves many nutrients and is said to make the codfish tastier.
The Scandinavians, notabily the Norwegians adopted this cheap and practical preserving method learned from the Newfoundland natives and required lots of salt which was found in Portugual, Spain and southern Italy.
The Norwegians tradionaly fished the Grand banks off Newfoundland for lots of fresh cod but needed the Salt found in Portugal, so a natural trade interest was always found between the two nations.

Salted Cod is an expensive fish, here is a sample from a Whole Foods in New England

There are many different qualities of Salted Cod, or Bacalhau, they usually vary by the way they are caught and the processes used to preserve them, the highest quality and most expensive Salted Cod are caught by a fish line and not fishing nets which cause bruising on the filets.
The best quality Salted Cod are when the fish's head is cut off while still alive and quickly salted on the boat.
New England has a strong Portuguese influence due to heavy Portuguese immigration to the area so Bacalhau or Salted Cod is easily found at stores around the area and you can find wonderful "Baked Bacalhau" at typical Portuguese restaurants in parts of the Boston Metro that have the heaviest concentration of Portuguese immigrants such as Fall River and New Bedford in Southern Massachusetts and East Providence in Rhode Island.
Our favorite restaurant for a typical Portuguese style Bacalhau in the Boston Region is Madeira Portuguese Restaurant in East Providence, Rhode Island, some 35 miles south of Boston.

Downtown New Bedford, Massachusetts, heavy Portuguese immigration

Portuguese American fisherman, fishing for Cod in Newport, Rhode Island


Jim said...

I must say that I both love and am tired of Bacalhauada. The preparation of fine salted cod is amazing. I love the baked combinations of flavors.

When done right the taste is not salty nor too fishy.

But unfortunately I have had a few too many not-so-well-prepared baking dishes filled with bacalhau.

This is a case of the new generation not doing their homework before trying to recreate the delicacies of the older generation.

You are lucky to be near Boston where there is a proud Protuguese community. Dare I say your bacalhau will be better than mine this season.

Fiona said...

that is an interesting bit of history about the norwegian/portuguese connection.

Bacalhau seems to be soul food. Seems to carry some sentimental/story value to it, maybe like pumpkin pie does for me. I would prefer to cook salted cod in lots of milk and pepper and potatoes over stovetop, but I always smile graciously and eat my share when over at the inlaws.

about the healthy eating, I heard olive oil and lime are both really good for passing gall stones. But I am sure you are getting lots of good advice from your doctor.

take care, and i have been enjoying your comments on my blog. Is it cold there right now? Today it was up to 40 celcius....

Gil and Ray said...

Oh, Fiona,

We just got back from walking Okie around our neighborhood, it's a bitter 23F and getting colder by the hour, it's supposed to get down to the single digits tonight:(
I also loved learning about the history of the Bacalhau, I thought it was amazing to find out about the natives from Newfoundland...calling it "Bacal", yet the Saxons still called it "Cod fish" and for some reason the Portuguese adopted the name...
To be honest with you I love Bacalhau cooked in any way shape or form.
I enjoy your blog very much, there aren't many in Sao Paulo and it is interesting to me to hear about experiences of Expats in my homeland... :)


Gil and Ray said...

Hey Jim,

Perhaps it's not only how to prepare it but also the quality.
According to what I read, the quality of the Cod Fish varies a lot is very important and it is very expensive to buy real Cod of high quality.
Nowadays with the fall of the Grand banks and the general scarcity of the Cod Fish, many times when you buy Bacalhau, if it's cheap, you are actually buying some kind of Salted White fish.
I remember when I last visited the Municipal Market, "Mercado Municipal" in Sao Paulo, the prices of Bacalhau varied too much, they went from
R$15,00 per kilo for the cheapest ones all the way up to R$280,00 per Kilo, I knew there must be an explanation for the huge price disparity and there is, the High Quality Cod is fished with a fish line and they have to cut off the head, bleed and salt the fish right on boat with high quality dry salt.
The cheapest Bacalhau is usually some kind of Pollock and other White Fish caught with HUGE fishing nets and have a saline solution injected in the fish at a factory, large scale, you get the picture, hence the price difference and obvious taste and quality.
I am sure when you buy a Pastel at a "feira" or "Buteco" they use the cheapest saline solution infused white fish.
I will try to buy a good quality Cod Fish some time to compare quality.


Gil and Ray said...


Yes, I almost forgot to tell you, Gil has an appoitment with his doctor plus a visit with a nutritionist later next week.
We already do use a lot of Olive Oil and lime in our diet :)


Fiona said...

oh good.
And yes, Sao Paulo. Ahh. I <3 Sao Paulo.