The History of Norwegian Bacalao, The Original Salt Cod

Since the Age of the Vikings, Salt Cod Has Played a Key Role in Norway’s Culture

The sea has sustained Norwegians for thousands of years. With one of the largest cod stocks in the world, cod has played a significant role in Norway’s culture and economy. Before modern food preservation, Norwegians used air and salt to preserve the wild cod stocks. Since the early Middle Ages, Norwegians have relied on stockfish, salt cod and clipfish for nourishment during long winters and ocean voyages.

Stockfish is a dried cod product that has played an important role in Norway’s history and culture for generations, providing Vikings with much-needed sustenance during their epic voyages. Even Leiv Eiriksson¹ was said to have had supplies of the dried fish with him when he discovered America. With temperatures of around 0°C, Northern Norway’s cold winter climate provides the perfect conditions for creating dried fish. Stockfish is Norway’s longest-sustained export commodity and one of the nation’s most famous dishes.

Salt cod, also known as bacalao, can be traced all the way back to the 15th century. Salt has antibacterial properties, so it preserved fish with a longer shelf life and made it suitable for storing at warmer temperatures. During the 17th century, salting became economically feasible when cheap salt from southern Europe became available to the maritime nations of northern Europe. It was an essential part of international commerce between the New World and the Old and eventually became a popular ingredient in Northern European cuisine, as well as Mediterranean, West African, Caribbean and Brazilian cuisines.

The knowledge of drying and salting fish resulted in clipfish—cod that is first salted and then dried. It is also referred to as “Klippfisk,” which literally means “rockfish,” a name derived from the traditional process of leaving the cod to dry out on flat rocks by the seaside. Today, it is mainly salted and dried indoors using modern techniques such as dry salting, brining or pickling.

Norway has become the world’s largest supplier of stockfish, salt cod and clipfish. However, the salted and dried cod has become popular throughout the world and is most widely consumed in Portugal, Spain and Italy. Preserved cod is incredibly versatile with a unique taste and texture.

1 Saveur, The Shipwrecked Sailors & The Wandering Cod,” 9/19/16