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The Greek Skrei

Skrei has also been part of Greek cuisine and food culture for centuries, present in many local and regional recipes. It is the main ingredient in soups, served fried or prepared in the oven with tomatoes.

Salted codfish has become a Greek national dish called bakaliaros skordalia. Bakaliaros is the Greek name for cod and skordalia is the name of the garlic dip that accompanies the fish.

It is consumed in most households on the 25th of March, a big national holiday in Greece. On this day, Greeks celebrate the beginning of the Greek war of independence against the Ottoman empire in 1821, but also the annunciation to the Virgin Mary. This day is within the 40-day period of strict fasting before Easter, when Greeks are invited to abstain from all animal flesh. But given the celebratory character of the holiday, the 25th of March became one of the few days when Greeks could break fasting and consuming fish was allowed.

But what sort of fish? And how come a fish coming from a foreign land became a Greek national dish?

The selection of salted codfish was mostly…practical. Back in the day, only those close to the sea had access to fresh fish. Fresh fish in mainland Greece was difficult to find and very expensive. Plus, many households might not have had access to refrigeration. Salted codfish was easy to transport and preserve, and as such, it could be found in small food shops across the country. It was also quite affordable, so accessible to all Greeks. So consuming salted codfish became a tradition, one that most Greeks uphold every year on the 25th of March.

The preparation for the dish begins a few days before, with the salted codfish being soaked in plenty of water to remove most of its salt. On the day it is dipped in a thick batter, made traditionally with flour and some sort of alcohol, ouzo, tsipouro, or beer. It is then fried in plenty of olive oil. It is served with skordalia, a classic Greek garlic dip made with garlic, olive oil and bread or potatoes.

The dish became so popular, that it is now often found in tavernas all around Greece throughout the year. As for salted codfish, it is now widely sold, often appearing in upscale delis that focus on traditional Greek produce, always with the sign “Norwegian cod”, so that no one forgets its long journey to Greece.

Written by Dr Nafiska Papacharalampous for SKREI Convention

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