Dried cod is a matter that Portuguese take very seriously and it is a unique national passion that has no similar examples in the history of Gastronomy.
The Portuguese like codfish cooked, raw, boiled, fried, charcoal-grilled or baked in the oven. It has to be dried and salted, though. They use everything from the cod: head, cheeks, tongues, gut, maw, roe, liver. It is all good and they would not exchange it for no other fish, although the Portuguese coast is rich with very tasty and abundant fishes and shellfish.
The Portuguese is now one the world biggest consumers of cod and have a true and lasting relationship with it, however, the cod isn’t fished in Portuguese waters and the Portuguese didn’t discover it. The discovery belongs to the Vikings, who firstly dried the cod in the open air after finding that this operation did not diminish the quality of the product. The dried cod, also, had other advantages: it did not rot, it occupied less space and could be eaten in pieces during the long voyages. Around 1000 AD, the Basques began not only to consume it but to trade it, cured, dried and salted. Since then, in the Middle Ages, dried cod became famous as durable foodstuff, with a better taste than other salted fishes. It became the food of the poor folk up until the Second World War. For this reason, the Portuguese, call it the “true friend”.
The Catholic Church gave great help to the popularity of dried cod in Portugal: on fasting days – Fridays, the 40 days of Lent and many other days of the Catholic calendar – “hot” foods such as meat was forbidden, and only “cold” food such as fish were allowed. The meat was off the menu during almost half of the days of the year, and fasting days came to be days in which dried salted cod was eaten. During Salazar’s authoritarian regime Estado Novo, the cod was turned into a symbol of the regime, but luckily this attempt was overcome, and the Cod is not remembered for those days.
Still today, cod is an important element in the Portuguese gastronomy, proof of it is that we are one the biggest consumers in the world, eating it even on Christmas Eve, one of the most important days in the Catholic Calendar.