Salt cod: A Basque gift to the world

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As you know, we’re partial to Basque cuisine at Rose & Mary. From the quality of our produce to the lightness of our cooking methods, the Basque region is a constant source of inspiration. So why did we choose to source our salt cod, that most Basque of all ingredients, from Iceland?

It’s a long story. In fact, it goes back as far as the ninth century, when Basque fishermen ventured far into the north Atlantic sea in pursuit of whales. The Vikings — also formidable whalers — had discovered that by air-drying cod to provision their boats, they could sustain themselves for longer trips at sea. But by most accounts, their dried cod was hard as a rock.

The Basques made a critical modification to the Viking method. By salting and then drying the cod, they were able to preserve the fish even longer and turn in from mere sustenance into a delicacy. Before long, they were supplying other areas of Spain and the Mediterranean countries with this superior version. Even today, many people prefer the taste of soaked salt cod to the bland meat of the fresh fish.

But while the Basques invented salt cod, today it’s their old rivals the Vikings who are carrying on the traditional methods. Our cod comes from Icelandic fishermen who salt their catch on board their boats with pure salt. A lot of commercial salt cod is caught and later injected with nitrites, a questionable choice for health. Our cod is also line-caught rather than captured by net, a method that is more sustainable and prevents the skin of the fish from darkening.

So while Icelandic cod is today considered the best in the world, we’ll still credit the Basques with this delicious discovery, and certainly with some of the best recipes for preparing it. Try our sous-vide salt cod with Basque peppers and mushroom confit and see if you don’t agree.

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