The ability to fish and process cod has been linked to the evolution of many settlements in the North Atlantic, and has encouraged journeys between territories. The first to dry cod were the Vikings. Before the 9th century, Nordic peoples already had cod drying facilities and used the fish to trade. By the 10th century, the Vikings were already travelling to Norway, Iceland and Greenland on open vessels powered by sails and oars, negotiating glaciers and icebergs. To survive in Greenland, and to be able to return home, they relied on cured codfish which they could chew much like cured meat.
Preserving items in salt has been known since the time of the Egyptians and pre-Roman populations. Cantabrian sailors used this traditional technique to conserve whale meat, and later applied it to cod. As cod yields very little oil, it could be conserved for a very long time. Salted fish - and later dried fish - lasted much longer than that of the Nordic peoples. In this way, they were able to sail even further than the Nordic peoples and trade more easily. In around the year 1,000, these fishermen had established a broad international trade network for salted cod.
Catholicism also boosted the consumption of cod throughout its territory. The medieval Church imposed days of fasting during which eating meat was prohibited and only cold food could be consumed. As fish came from water, it was considered cold. These fasting days took place on Fridays (being the day of Christ's crucifixion), during Lent, and on several other days in the religious calendar. Cod soon became very popular, and was linked to certain Christian liturgies.
In the 15th century, Basque fishermen had become very wealthy from trading cod, not only because of the techniques used but because they were able to catch large quantities of the fish. The fishing grounds where they worked remained a mystery for centuries. Other fleets that fished in Icelandic waters and the North Sea claimed not to have seen their boats. As a result, the British decided to try to follow them. They were unable to solve the mystery, but they discovered another fishing ground off the North American coast. This new spot proved very beneficial, so they decided to keep its location secret.
When Columbus discovered America, he claimed the New World for the Spanish Crown. However, the land was already known. But unlike Columbus, who was an explorer, the fishermen kept their secret.
The new colonisers took advantage of the fertile waters and began to trade cod. From the second half of the 16th century, 60% of the fish consumed in Europe was cod - caught chiefly in North America.
Cod is rich in protein, minerals and vitamins (mainly B vitamins), and is also low in fat and calories. 500 grams of cod is equivalent to 18 eggs, 3.5 litres of milk or 800 grams of meat. Salted cod contains high levels of salt, and can even reach 89 milligrams per one 100-gram portion due to added salt used as a preservative.
Overall, this makes the consumption of fresh and desalted cod ideal for a wide variety of diets. For example, it can be consumed by people with high blood pressure as it is low in sodium and rich in potassium.
The desalting time depends on the quantity and the type of cut. Firstly, it is important to cut the fish and eliminate excess solid salt on the outside. Next, the fish is placed skin side up into a receptacle with five or more times cold water than the weight of the cod. Place the receptacle into the fridge at a temperature of 4 to 7° C and change the water every twelve hours. The desalting process lasts between 24 and 48 hours, depending on the size of the cod and the level of saltiness you desire. It is important to try the saltiness in the middle part of the fish piece in order to obtain the desired level.
Once desalted, drain, dry and cook as soon as possible to preserve all its properties of quality and flavour.