The thing had seasons of more relaxation and others of tightening the nuts of orthodoxy to the staff
Marching! We finished last week longing for the old dried cod and conspiring to save them from culinary ostracism as before we had to do with hake. It didn’t take long for the voices to appear, some very learned, like that of Dr. Duyos, pointing out the opportunity of the stake. Others, directly, asking for another portion of cod. So there it goes. Due to lack of portions at the table it will not be. Keep in mind that the days of vigil in the Crown of Castile, for centuries, reached 120 per year, going from 160 in Aragon. I doubt very much that the most popular economies could afford to eat fish each of them, little more than sopicaldos and the odd scrape.
The thing had seasons of more relaxation and others of tightening the nuts of orthodoxy to the staff. From 1517, when Martin Luther hung on the door of his parish the 95 theses with which he intended to refute the entire penitential system of the Church and which ultimately ended with the creation of two opposing Europes destined to fight each other during the following centuries. , food rectitude intensified as the Counter-Reformation was consolidated. More fish than ever was needed in Catholic countries and a flourishing industry was created. Tell it to the Norwegians, that until the discovery of crude oil and gas that made them rich at the end of the 60s of the last century, they had their national oil in cod, and to the Icelanders, who continue to do so.
I have already told some time that in 1497 the Italian Giovanni Caboto touched the coast of Canada and returned saying that there was so much cod “that you could catch it with baskets”. The Portuguese already fished it before on the English coasts and arrived shortly before Caboto at the ‘Terra Nova dos Bacalhaus’. In the first decades of the 16th century we set sail for Newfoundland and did not stop going to the fishing grounds for one spring until the corsairs turned the trip into pure danger. At the height of the 16th century, cod fishing was said to be the best business in Europe.
For centuries, the role that we now give almost exclusively to cod and a few decades ago also to conger eel, so popular with the Aragonese, had been occupied by cecial hake or hake dried in the cold air of the north, from Galicia to the Basque Country. A product that disappeared so long ago that we have no culinary reason, although we do have a bibliographical one. The thing was serious. In the ordinances of the Council of Córdoba of 1435 it is stated «On the fishmongers and cecial fish: That none have water in the troughs when they go to sell the cecial fish, under penalty of a fine of thirty maravedís for the first time (…) and thirty days in jail for the third.”
After talking a lot about these issues and collecting some notes in the book we made together a few years ago about Casa Marcial, the chef Nacho Manzano tried to dry hake and other species in the Northeast wind on a hill in La Salgar, but it blew so much in those days that due to several accidents with the hanging system, he could not have at his disposal the brand new cecial fish. I don’t know of other cases and I would like to see what that cecial or dried hake tasted like, whose voice, etymologically speaking, comes from the same as cecina, ‘siccialis’.
In his book ‘Arte de Cocina, pastelería, vizcochería y conservería’, published in 1611 by Francisco Martínez Montiño, a casserole of azenorias and cecial fish is offered, which would probably be based on hake. The total expansion of cod, until it became the king of dried fish in the world, the king of kings, took a long time. And so it has lived until a few decades ago when brine and semi-salting techniques, favored by the new cold industry, have put on the tables a new category of product that has almost finished displacing, at least in Spain, the traditional dried cod to the air, without salt, the Torrfisk that the Norwegians call, the food with which the Vikings traveled Europe at the turn of the second millennium, and the dry-salty or Klippfisk that the Spanish and Portuguese taught them to prepare centuries later.
Cod from Soria
The loans have been mutual. The large wooden racks that define the impressive landscape of the Lofoten Islands, in the north of Norway, in the middle of the Polar Circle, from which cod are hung to dry in the cold air, were reproduced more than 70 years ago in the town of Soriana from Ágreda, where the cod industry has been drying and salting Gadus morhua in the Moncayo air and perfuming everything with its characteristic touch of salt and sea.
And if the history and legend are as great as we have outlined in these lines, what can we say about the flavor and texture of its mature flakes, when in the drying process the Micrococcus bacteria break down the proteins of the cod meat causing it to release the amino acids that provide the characteristic flavor and transform the fat into free fatty acids responsible for the aroma that captivates us and of which I find no trace in the semi-salted products.