Flavours cooking courses know a thing about it too!
It has become a staple ingredient for Christmas Eve celebrations. In Italia it’s called La Vigilia and has its history imbued with the strictures of Wednesday and Friday fasts which had to be catered for, even throughout the austere winter months. Having lost the Catholic faith as the dominant one in the UK during the 16th century, these observances were mostly abandoned and along with it, the reliance on fish for religious purposes. Therefore it all sounds a little fishy to the Brits!
What does remain is the fact that once salt cod has been dried, it is virtually imperishable and becomes a vital store cupboard item providing much nourishment. In Italy you can take your pick of Stoccafiso which is wind dried cod or Baccalà which is dried salt cod. The curing processes are completely different and as a consequence, you will end up with two completely different products in terms of outward appearance, texture and taste.
Stoccafiso begins its life in Norway, Iceland or Newfoundland. It is landed, gutted and then dried by the biting north winds that blow through Norwegian fjords. When the fish are cured they are packed and sent to Italy where they hang like banners in shops dedicated to them. At this point they look a little like damaged umbrellas, having battled a winter gale.
To those unused to this ingredient they don’t look particularly appetising as they have been thoroughly beaten and desiccated by their treatment and it takes much love and patience to bring them back to some semblance of their fishy past. This is achieved through various methods, including beating them unsoaked, with an appropriately sized hammer and changing the water, often over a period of days. Salt cod especially, requires frequent changes of water to rid the flesh of the intense saltiness.
Baccalà is the cod from the North Atlantic and is probably more appealing to anyone wanting to handle such an object for the first time. Its flesh is whiter and soaking time can be kept to just 24 hours so it has much more going for it than the wind dried Stoccafiso in terms of preparation time; it also has the benefit of having, how can I put it, a less intense aroma!
So Baccalà Stufato Con Latte from the book ‘Honey from a Weed’ by Patience Gray.
Flavours 2015 brochure for a painting, Pilates or cooking holiday which will be well deserved by the time we reach spring.