At one time, dried salt cod was a popular food worldwide. It was a common staple throughout the Mediterranean basin. It was well represented in Spanish, Greek and French cuisines; but it was also integral to the native cooking of places as far flung as India and Canada. In recent times it has fallen out of favor as modern transportation and refrigeration has made seafood more available, as least in  the developed world.

The thing to remember about salt cod is just that, it has an astronomically high sodium content. This was done back in days of yore in order to preserve it during transport. As noted, that is no loner a problem. Still, there are some of us who still sing its praises. The sticking point, now as then, is that the product has to be prepared before cooking. The common practice is soaking the salt cod in cold water, and changing the water at least three times. For regular salt cod the usual soaking time is from 6 to 8 hours.  The common procedure is to leave it overnight, then drain and rinse under cold running water. The cod is then placed in a pot of boiling water to cover and simmered gently for 15 minutes or so. It is drained again and, when cool, the skin and bones are peeled way. Lastly, the fish is flaked so that its ready to cook.  Luckily, today you can buy deboned salt cod. So, at least, that part of the process can be omitted.

You probably think the preparation time involved is a hell of a bother just to eat cod. But not many good things are as inexpensive or as versatile. It can acquire any number of flavors during cooking, depending upon the condiments used. It will complement almost any vegetable or grain, even pasta. In our culture we serve it with rice, or bianda (root plants), eggplant, or tostones (green fried plantains).  With whatever side dish, or even by itself with plain bread, salt cod is extraordinary.

BACALAO GUISADO
(Stewed Codfish)

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon sage
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1 pound dried salt cod (prepared beforehand for cooking; see above)

1. Heat olive oil in a heavy frying pan or skillet. Add onion, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaf, sage and white pepper. Sauté over medium heat for about 3 minutes.
2. Add tomato sauce and cook for 3 minutes longer.
3. Add flaked codfish. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
4. Serve with favorite vegetable or grain.
Yield: 4 servings.