Cod is the common name for the genus Gadus of fish, belonging to the family Gadidae, and is also used in the common name of a variety of other fishes. Cod is a popular food fish with a mild flavor, low fat content, and a dense white flesh that flakes easily. Cod livers are processed to make cod liver oil, an important source of Vitamin A, Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA).In the United Kingdom, Atlantic cod, despite now being an endangered species, is still one of the most common kinds of fish to be found in fish and chips, along with haddock and plaice.It is also well known for being largely consumed in Portugal, where it is considered a treasure of the nation's cuisine.
Bacalhau means codfish in Portuguese, but the word almost always refers to the dry, salted codfish product called salt cod, as fresh cod is rarely consumed in Portugal. The word bacalhau is however also used when referring to dishes with salt cod.
Bacalhau dishes are common in Portugal and Brazil, but as salt cod is rather expensive it is considered a delicacy and more often than not only eaten on special occasions. It is typically served in homes on Christmas Eve and Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. An inexpensive dish made from it is bolinhos de bacalhau (Brazil) or pastéis de bacalhau (Portugal), found in bars for a reasonable price. These deep-fried balls contain less expensive parts of the clipfish mixed together with potatoes, in the same vein as fishcakes.
The essential ingredient, salted dried codfish, usually comes from Norway (Bacalhau da Noruega) or Newfoundland (Bacalhau da Terra Nova). It used to be very affordable, but with the collapse of the cod stocks and dismantling of Portuguese bacalhoeiro fleet, it became more expensive, especially near Christmastime.
History of bacalhau dishes
Salt cod has been produced for at least 500 years, since the time of the European discoveries. Before refrigeration, there was a need to preserve the codfish; drying and salting are ancient techniques to keep many nutrients and the process makes the codfish tastier.The Portuguese tried to use this method of drying and salting several fishes from their waters, but the ideal fish came from much further north. With the "discovery" of Newfoundland in 1497, they started fishing its cod-rich Grand Banks. Thus, bacalhau became a staple of the Portuguese cuisine, nicknamed Fiel amigo (faithful friend).One of the reasons for this popularity in Portugal and other Catholic countries, was because of the many days (Fridays, Lent, and other festivals) on which the Church forbad the eating of meat. Bacalhau dishes were eaten instead.
There are numerous bacalhau recipe variations, depending on region and tradition. It is said there are more than 365 ways to cook bacalhau, one for every day of the year; others say there are 1001 ways. But it is the main bacalhau recipes that are the most notable, and these have even gained fame in Southeast Asia. Many Asian tourists head to Macau just to eat bacalhau, an area where fresh seafood is also very popular.Bacalhau is often served with potatoes. Green (Vinho Verde) or mature wines (Alentejo Wine, Dão Wine or Douro Wine) are served alongside.There is also the Bolinhos de Bacalhau (name in the North of Portugal and in Brazil) or Pastéis de Bacalhau (name in the South): literally "Codfish cakes", made up of potatoes, eggs, parsley, and some minor ingredients with dry salted codfish. The Bolinhos or Pastéis de Bacalhau are fried and served cold before meals. Another similar delicacies are the "Pataniscas de Bacalhau" and the "Iscas de Bacalhau", which are often only serverd in traditional Tavernas (taberns) in Northern Portugal and often preferred by older people.