Salt Cod – (Nova Scotia)


Origin: Nova Scotia, Canada

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A Bit of History

Centuries ago the fish were one of the prime attractions bringing early explorers to our shores from Europe.

In the early days, much of the catch was salted. In the absence of refrigeration, this was the best means of preserving the fish until it could be landed ashore and shipped to market.  Salting also permitted consumption throughout the year, at a time when fishing was mostly carried out during the summer months.

Fishing in the Lunenburg area of Nova Scotia commenced as early as 1760, well before Canada was established as a country, with shipments of dried fish to the Caribbean beginning in the latter part of the same century.

Vessels would carry lumber as well as salted and pickled fish to the Caribbean, normally returning with cargoes of molasses, sugar, rum, and salt.  But the Lunenburg fishing industry remained small until the mid 1800’s.  Boats initially fished mostly in coastal areas of Nova Scotia, going north to Labrador in the summer.

But by the late 1800’s, larger vessels began making regular trips to the rich offshore fishing banks, and landings increased steadily.  During the years 1884-1888, approximately 800,000 hundredweight (about 80 million pounds or 36 million kilos) of dried cod were produced in Nova Scotia.

The sailing schooners would go to the fishing banks from March to September, each equipped with 7-10 small wooden boats, called dories, normally with 2 fishermen in each dory.  The dories would leave the schooner early in the morning and return later in the day, hopefully loaded with fish.  Upon their return to the schooner, the fish would be cleaned, washed, split and then packed into the hold of the vessel with salt, where it was allowed to cure.  A few times each summer, the schooners would land their catch and the fish would be removed from the salt, taken onto the shore and washed, and then it would be placed on racks at the seaside, known as flakes, for drying.


“IN France, the creamy salt cod dish called brandade de morue (creamed salt cod), despite its elegant-sounding name, is considered ordinary. Good, but fairly ordinary. As familiar as shepherd’s pie or tuna casserole in North America.A decent version is sold at most fishmongers for shoppers who want to just heat and eat (for those who want to cook it from scratch, fillets of salt cod are always there, too). A Parisian pal of mine always picks up some at the market for her children. It makes an easy supper, and they love it, but they also think it’s normal, everyday stuff.

Not everyone who grows up with salt cod necessarily agrees. My friend from Wisconsin wouldn’t even take a taste. Chances are, if your memories of salt cod evoke the bland and woolly, you had it in the Midwest. If you grew up in a Portuguese or Caribbean community, you would probably be more nostalgic.

Nonetheless, brandade is still iconic bistro fare, and when it is well prepared, it borders on ethereal.

Here’s how to make it. Go to the place where the salt cod is sold. This might be an Italian deli, a supermarket or a fishmonger. A one-pound fillet is sufficient for four to six people (at our house, closer to four).

Back at home, carry the fish to the tap and turn on the cold water. Give the fish a good rinse, then put it in a big bowl and fill it to the brim. Whenever you think of it during the next several hours, drain and refill the bowl. Before you retire for the evening, change the water one more time. The next morning, your salt cod is ready to be cooked. Remove it from the bath, and refrigerate it for up to two days.

For tender salt cod, the trick to cooking it is simply to not overcook it, and to keep the flame low, at just under a simmer; rapid boiling will give the cod a pitiful, dry, stringy texture. Another trick, which keeps the fish sweet, is to cook it in a combination of milk and water, along with a few aromatics like bay leaf, thyme, clove and peppercorns.

While still warm, the cod is flaked into a bowl, roughly mashed with potatoes and moistened with garlicky olive oil and cream. A little cooking liquid is added to lighten the mixture, which can then be whipped. Some cooks like a homogeneous, smooth purée; I prefer it a bit on the chunky and rustic side.

Topped with bread crumbs and baked until golden, the creamy salt cod gratin is rather irresistible. For a simple accompaniment, consider a good green salad, or a dish of green beans or peas. But it is good with drinks, too, spread on toasts or scooped up with crusty French bread.”

– NY Times