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Portugal: Norwegian Cod Keeps the Bacalhau Traditions Alive

Portugal is a country of cod lovers and cod from Norway is a favourite. No other European country, uses up as much seafood and for sure not as much cod, per capita as Portugal. 

Visit any town, village or other place where there is a traditional Portuguese restaurant, and you will be offered one, or a number of dishes made from salted semi dried cod – bacalhau. Any proud chef will have his own bacalhau specialty. It is said that a Portuguese wife can prepare cod, - or bacalhau, as it is known, in as many ways as there are days in a year. Some sources even say there are more than 1000 recipes.

Northern Seafood recently visited the Azores. Eight islands raised from the bottom of the Atlantic Oceans by volcanoes, in what is the junction of the Eurasian, North American and African tectonic plates. The islands are situated one third of the way toNewfoundland.

 

bacalhau
For years did fishing boat owners from the Azores control the Portugese cod fishery on the Grand Banks. Today is mostof the quality bacalhau like this nicespecimen originating from Norway.

 

BACALHAU IS A MUST

 

In the Azores, in the middle of an ocean bountiful with fish and shellfish, bacalhau is as importantas in any other place in Portugal.

- Bacalhau is very important for any Portuguese restaurant. It is a must here in Ponta Delgada.Walk around and check menus, and you will have trouble finding restaurants not serving bacalhau, says Verrisimo Costa. He is the chef at the restaurant A Tasca, probably the most famous restaurant in Ponta Delgada, the largest city on San Miguel and the most populated island in the Azores.

Verrisimo has two bacalhau dishes on the menu. If you just like a small dish, petiscos, as theysay in Portugal, - you can order Punhete e Bacalhau. It is a salad with de-salted raw cod mixed with grilled capsicum, onion, garlicand boiled eggs with vinegar dressing. For the main course the guests can choose Bacalhau aTasqueiro. This is the restaurants own, special recipe. The semidried salted codfish is watered out toreduce the salt, - and then baked in the oven.

- I only use the best quality Norwegian bacalhau. The cuts come from large cod caught in the Arctic waters off Northern Norway,says Verrisimo. He shows us some nice cuts ready to be baked.

 

bacalhau
Most Portugese restaurants serve one or more Bacalhau dishes, such as here at A Tasca in Ponta Delgada on the Azorean Island of San Miguel.

 

COD IS NOT EATEN FRESH

 

In Portugal, Norway is synonymous with semi dried, salted Norwegian cod, the best quality bacalhau. There are also smaller quantities of Icelandic cod, and cod imported from North-America, including Pacific cod. But the most important and beloved product is cod originating from Norway. It is not common to eat fresh cod, or bacalhau fresco, as they say in Portugal. It has to be salted and semidried to bring out the flavours the Portuguese love so much.

Portugal does not have any cod stocks in their own waters. The cod is caught with longlines, trawls, jiggers and gillnetters in the Eastern Atlantic from the Bay of Biscay north of the Arctic Ocean and the Barents Sea, including the Baltic Sea, The North Sea and off the southern part of Greenland. Hence, the Portuguese has either imported, or caught the cod in waters far away from their own coast.

The fact that the cod also inhabits parts of the North Americas east coast, is where the answer to the Portuguese love affair with the fish can be found.

 

 

FISHING FOR 500 YEARS

 

In 1499 and 1500, Portuguese mariners João Fernandes Lavrador and Pêro de Barcelos explored and mapped the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador, and in 1501 and 1502 Portugal was claimed as part of the Portuguese Empire by the Corte. Real brothers. Soon after, the Portuguese sent their fishing vessels across the Atlantic to exploit the large cod resources of Newfoundland.

Salting cod is a method of preservation that has been used for at least 500 years. The Portuguese have salted several species of fish found in their waters.

Dynamic scholar, passionate maritime historian and specialist in ethnography, João Gomes Vieira, has written a book which proves essential for understanding the involvement of the Portuguese, and especially the Azoreans involvement in the cod fishery in the misty, stormy, icy seas on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

As the fishing fleet had to conserve conservethe fish, it was salted, and then after returning to Portugal, put on cliffs to dry in the windand sun. In Norway the semidried cod is called “klippfisk”, literally “cliff fish”.

 

 

THE AZOREAN DOMINATED THE FISHERY

 

If you are sitting in the restaurant A Tasca you are sitting on historical grounds. Many of the inhabitants of Ponta Delgada worked onfishing vessels on the banks of Newfoundland from the 1880s.The islands contribution to this fishery was so important that in the last decades of the nineteenth century, all the Portuguese codfishing fleet was in possession of the Azores ship owners, although operating from Figueira da Fozand Lisbon.

So important were the codfisheries on the Grand Banks for Portugal, that Newfoundland on some early maps was given the name “Terra dos Bacalhaus” (“The Codfish Land”). But in theearly 1990s the cod fishery collapsed due to overfishing, and it ended an era of fishing cod on the Grand Banks, involving a number of European countries.

The history of Portuguese fishing for hundreds of years on the Grand Banks clearly explains the important part bacalhau plays in the Azorean cuisine, or in fact inany place in Portugal. Northern Seafood magazine has visited most major cities in Portugal, and everywhere enjoys bacalhau.

Bacalhau, after being soaked in water, usually overnight or sometimes longer, is prepared in all manner of ways. The flavours are enriched through the salting and maturing process, making the taste distinctively different from fresh cod.

It is baked, used in gratins, panfried, grilled, boiled and so on. It is served with potatoes, rice or bread. In Azores some chillis auce is usually sprinkled on the fish, and taro is used instead of potatoes.

Every part of the semidried sides of the split cod have its own way of being used. The most exclusive part is the loin. Perfect for pan frying or boiling. The belly meat is often used in stews. One of the most famous stews being Bacalhau com Natas, - Bacalhau with cream. You can getit served as “bolas”, - deed friedcakes, - or as a fish burger. Only ones imagination makes limits on how bacalhau can be prepared into a delicious meal. Therefore, many restaurants have their own recipes.

 

 

MOST BACALHAU COMES FROM NORWAY

 

Norway has always been the main supplier of imported bacalhau. In 2015 Norway exported a total of 40,537 tonnes of clipfish made from cod. 24,873 tonnes, almost 61 per cent of the total export went to Portugal. If converted, this quantity represents almost 91,000 tonnes of cod live weight.

In addition, Portugal last year imported 18,473 tonnes of salted cod from Norway, if converted to live weight it’s equal to 47,000 tonnes of cod. The salted cod was dried by Portuguese producers.They also imported 3,100 tonnes of frozen cod for the same purpose.

Another fact is a total of 141,000 tonnes live weight of Norwegian cod was exported to Portugal.The total Norwegian export of cod live weight was 205,000 tonnes last year. In percentage terms, 69 per cent of the Norwegian exported cod catch ended up in Portugal. A small quantity was re-exported to Brazil and some African countries.

The Portuguese fleet caught less than 10,000 tonnes of cod (round weight) in 2014. Figures for 2015 are not available yet. As the quotas were lower, the catch was lower than in 2014.

It is not too much to say that the important place the bacalhau has, in the culinary traditions of Portugal, would not be possible if not for cod from Norway. The cod comes from fish stocks managed and harvested in a sustainable way to secure the livelihood of the fishers, - and to make sure that the Portuguese can enjoy their favourite fish.

Export klippfish

 

 

Norwegian exporters of cod:

- Arctic Group Maritime

- Norsk Sjømat

- Drevik International

- Carisma Seafood

- Ståle Nilsen Seafood AS

- Ice Fish AS

- Polar Seafrozen

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