Mark Kurlansky, in his book Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, credits that ocean-dweller with all manner of impact on human commerce and history.
Cod, once salted down and dried, provides a relatively spoilage-resistant and nutritious source of protein... a tall order in the days before refrigeration. Thus it was that some five hundred years ago, when Europeans discovered the cod-packed fisheries of the Grand Banks off Newfoundland, salt cod became a key export of the North American colonies. It was shipped to the British colonies of the Caribbean, there to feed the slaves that toiled in the sugar cane fields. Those colonies, in turn, would export rum and molasses... and the colonies would use their trade surpluses to purchase manufactured goods from Jolly Olde.
But salt cod was not only nutritious - it tasted good. Once subjected to a lengthy soaking to remove the salt, it could be used as the base for any number of dishes. The Portuguese had their bacalhau, the Spanish their bacalao, the Italians their baccalà... and they loved it in all manner of preparations.
A few months ago I had put up a batch of marinated roasted red and yellow peppers. Along with the recipe for the peppers, I had in hand Eugenia Bone’s instructions for preparing a fish-based salad that used those peppers to accent the flavor of salt cod. Here’s my quick ’n’ dirty adaptation:
Baccalà and Marinated Roasted Pepper Salad
[I made this with marinated peppers I canned myself. You may, if you wish, substitute a commercial product.]
Soak one pound of salt cod plus three cloves of smashed garlic for two days in cold water, changing the water twice a day. (Keep the fish refrigerated while you do this!) Drain the fish and garlic and place in a pan; cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer for fifteen minutes.
Dump the fish into a colander to drain; let cool for twenty minutes and then use forks to pull it into small chunks. (Yes, sometimes I use colanders for their original intended purpose.)
Take a good-size handful of well-scrubbed fingerling potatoes and drop them into a pan of boiling salted water. Boil for ten minutes; then drain. Slice the potatoes into discs.
In a large bowl, combine the sliced potatoes and fish chunks. Take a half-pint of marinated roasted peppers and drain off the liquid; reserve. Using scissors, snip the peppers into pieces and add to the mixture in the bowl. Add enough of the reserved pepper marinade to moisten - you don’t want it too sloppy or oily. Throw in a handful of freshly chopped Italian parsley, toss well, and voilà! You have a delicious Fishy Salad that partakes of the Noble History of the Cod, the fish that changed the world.