The drying of food with or without salt is the world's oldest known preservation method, and dried fish has a storage life of several years. Traditionally, salt cod was dried only by the wind and the sun, hanging on wooden scaffolding or spread on clean cliffs or rocks near the seaside. This traditional method still continues in the northern parts of Norway, and demands the highest price. Commercial drying of cod and pollock is cheaper but just as good.
Drying reportedly preserves many of the nutrients, and the process of salting and drying codfish is said to make it tastier. Salting became economically feasible and a source of income during the 17th century, when cheap salt from southern Europe became available to the maritime nations of Norway, Sweden and Finland. The method was cheap and the work could be done by the fisherman or their families. We all know the history and economics of cod fishing on the Canadian East Coast. The resulting product was easily transported to market, and salt cod became a staple item in the diet of the populations of Catholic countries on Fridays and during Lent, when no meat was eaten.
My Norwegian grandfather, from whom I inherited my love of cooking, used to make the recipe below. It is unchanged, just as he taught me. I was forbidden to add even an extra anchovies fillet.
Salt Cod Fish Cakes
250 g (1/2 lb) boneless salt cod
1 bay leaf
250 g (1/2 lb) potatoes
15 ml (1 tbsp) butter
45 ml (3 tbsp) chopped parsley
2 anchovies fillets, chopped
1 onion, chopped finely
Salt and pepper to taste
Egg and bread crumbs for coating
1. Soak the cod in fresh water for 2 days, changing the water once.
2. Boil the cod in fresh water with the bay leaf and cloves until it flakes easily.
3. Flake the fish either by hand or with a fork and mix with the rest of the ingredients.
4. Form into cakes, press slightly flat and coat with egg and bread crumbs.
5. Shallow-fry until browned and cooked through.
Serve with potato salad or steamed vegetables.