Baccalà and why the Venetians love it so much.

Baccalà or salt cod is one of the most ancient dishes of the Venetian Republic. It’s also one of the most popular, even today.

Some find it ironic that one of the most famous dishes of Venetian cuisine and one of the Veneto region’s most popular does not come from Venice at all. In fact, the cod used to make baccalà or salt cod or stock fish, another name for the salt-cured fish, comes from the icy waters of the northern seas. Historically, baccalà first reached Venice and Venetian dinner tables from Norway during the Venetian Renaissance (in the 1400s and 1500s). You’ll find a detailed and compelling chronicle and history of the dish in food historian Mark Kurlansky’s excellent book, simply entitled Cod. It’s a great read and we highly recommend it.

One of the reasons that baccalà became so popular was that it solved a fundamental culinary problem: During the Renaissance, the Catholic calendar called for countless Lenten days or fast days when Christians were not allowed to eat meat, eggs, or dairy products. This tradition still endures among Italian Catholics who don’t eat meat on Fridays, for example.

Because baccalà was so easy to transport (because of its light weight) and because it was so easy to store (the salt acts as a natural preservative that makes it last seemingly indefinitely), it was the ideal food stock to have around for all those Lenten days. Salt was also a valuable commodity at the time, which made baccalà an attractive investment for Venetian merchants.

Today, for example, when you travel to the Veneto for wine and food tourism, you’ll find dishes like baccalà alla vicentina, stock fish soaked for days to purge its salt and then stewed with milk and potatoes until flaky and tender and then served over grilled white polenta. Vicenza, the city that gives the dish its name, isn’t located on the sea, yet its most famous dish comes from the sea.

It’s a great pairing for our Prosecco Colfòndo by the way!

Image via Kate Hopkins’ Flickr (Creative Commons).

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