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1,001 ways to cook cod

By Bill Lynch

In my previous three columns on Portugal, there’s been mention of cod, bacalau in Portuguese. They are everywhere in Portugal except in the water. You will not find a single cod in the rivers, bays or even the oceans off Portugal’s shores, which is why I was unable to fly fish for the most popular seafood in the country.

I’m not sure one can even catch a cod on a fly, but that doesn’t mean there was a lack of opportunity to taste this national dish. It is served at every meal – fried, sautéed, baked, boiled, roasted, shredded and layered like lasagna. It was said that there are 1,001 ways to prepare it. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a cod ice cream.

The reason why there are so many cod and cod recipes in Portugal apparently goes back centuries when England was overrun with cod and wanted more wine and Portugal was drowning in wine but lacking in seafood.

The two countries set up a thriving trade – English cod for wine, Portuguese wine for cod. There was just one problem – lack of refrigeration. The only way the cod would survive the long voyage from England to Portugal was if it was dried and salted. The only way wine wouldn’t sour on its way to England was if the fermentation process was stopped by fortification (adding alcoholic spirits).

So the Portuguese got salty, dried fish carcasses and the Brits got port wine.

Any question about who got the better end of that deal?

But the Portuguese never gave up trying to make cod palatable. We were served cod at virtually every inn and hotel in which we stayed. It was on the menu in every restaurant and sold at every grocery store. They have come to love it as a national delicacy. I respect their dedication, but after many days of trying, I concluded I much preferred almost any dish rather than another serving of cod.

That said, Dottie and I liked Portugal very much and especially the many gracious, friendly and gregarious Portuguese we met during our trip. We most enjoyed the city of Porto, which is north of the capital city of Lisbon. Smaller than the capital, Porto felt more intimate and relaxed and had the charm that the larger Lisbon lacked.

One more thing, you must enjoy at least one Fado performance while you visit. Think – Portuguese sing the blues. These all-acoustical performances include two guitarists (one playing a Portuguese guitar, which sounds a lot like a mandolin), and one singer, dressed in black mourning clothes. The vocalist stands very still, almost rigid, and sings of lost love and the sadness of a broken heart. The melodies are hauntingly beautiful, and the quality of the voices and the accompaniment are remarkable. We were totally captivated.

The next stop on our journey was Barcelona, Spain. I’ll touch on that next week.

While I was testing the waters across the pond, Steve Kyle had a great day on the Truckee River catching so many trout his arm went numb.

Bill Brinton went on several fishing adventures, including a three-dayer off the Florida Keys where he fished continuously for monster tarpon during what locals call the palolo worm hatch. Finally, at 6:15 p.m. on his final evening, he hooked into a 70-pounder, fought it for 45 minutes, brought it to the boat, took a photo and set it free. “What a fight,” said Bill. “There isn’t an ounce of quit in these fish. He fought all the way to the boat.”

Bill also sent me a report from Fall River, where the water is extremely low, but the trout are still biting.

Closer to home, striped bass and halibut are making a lot of San Francisco Bay anglers smile, and the rock and ling cod fishing off the Sonoma coast is very good.