Bacalhau

(Codfish)
   Since the 15th century, codfish has been the favorite national dish of the Portuguese. Voyages of the navigator Corte-Real to Newfoundland, North America, late in that century, aroused the Portuguese interest in consuming codfish, particularly in its dried and salted form. For centuries thereafter, Portuguese cod fishing fleets visited the Newfoundland banks and returned with their precious catches. During periods when Portugal's economic fortunes were low and when the necessary shipping was unavailable, the Portuguese arranged to have English fishermen obtain codfish. After 1835, an annual Portuguese codfish fleet visited Newfoundland again. Oddly enough, despite the traditional codfish fleet system, the national fleet usually acquired only 10-15 percent of the codfish required, and the remainder was supplied by Great Britain, Sweden, and Norway. Although the Portuguese codfish fleet off Newfoundland ceased operations in the 1970s, codfish remains as popular as ever, and much of the country's annual supply comes from abroad.
   The Portuguese love affair with bacalhau is at least 500 years old, and it gave rise to the traditional Portuguese description of this important part of their cuisine: "the faithful friend" (o fiel amigo). Long ago, the Portuguese learned how to salt and sun-dry the codfish they had caught to preserve it. Before the age of refrigeration, the dried, salted codfish kept for months. Before being prepared for the table, the Portuguese soaked it for 24 hours in various changes of water. The soaking reconstitutes this fish and disposes of the excessive salt. Codfish dishes remain popular for many holiday and other celebrations, and it is said that there are 365 ways of cooking codfish, one for each day of the year. A popular, now traditional codfish dish is bacalhau d bras, which consists of thin strips of cod mixed with onions and thin strips of potato surrounded by eggs. An even more historic dish is bacalhau a Gomes de Sá, cooked in a casserole with thinly sliced potatoes, onions, and garnished with hardboiled eggs and black olives. The dish is named in honor of an Oporto codfish merchant, José Luís Gomes de Sá Junior, who developed the famous dish while working at a noted restaurant in his native Oporto.

Historical dictionary of Portugal 3rd ed.. . 2014.

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