Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Foods of Easter in Brazil - Salt Cod (Bacalhau)

Foods associated with Easter in Brazil include not only the sweet (click here to read further) but the salty. Eating salt cod (in Portuguese bacalhau) is traditional throughout the country, and on the Good Friday holiday eating bacalhau approaches the obligatory category, like turkey on North American Thanksgiving.

Brazilians love bacalhau and serve it in many forms year-round, not just at Easter time. This is part of the culinary heritage that Brazil received from its former colonial power, Portugal. The Portuguese were among the first nations to employ bacalhau in their diets, and fished for Atlantic cod (Gadus Morhua) in the cold seas of Canada, Newfoundland, and Norway as early as the late 1400s. Before the arrival of electrical refrigeration, salting was probably the most important method of preservation of food, and the Portuguese were early discoverers of the possibilities of international trade in bacalhau. In time, the Portuguese discovered the gastronomic possibilities of bacalhau, and passed their love of this salted fish on to the Brazilians.

Unfortunately, bacalhau is loved too well, not just in Portugal and Brazil, but throughout the world, and stocks of Atlantic cod have been decimated. Severe overfishing has led to collapse of the stock, and the long term outlook for a revival of a sustainable Atlantic cod fishery is decidedly dim. Today, much of the bacalhau sold in supermarkets and fish markets in Brazil comes from other species, some related to Atlantic cod and some not. Whatever the species though, bacalhau, which began as a way to cheaply feed the poor has become an expensive luxury here in Brazil and elsewhere.

Whatever the price, Brazilians are still willing to pay for the traditional privilege of eating bacalhau at Easter. This week, Brazilian supermarkets are laden with vast quantities of it, and the rather pungent smell of this salted fish wafts from one aisle to another. Few shoppers leave the market without at least a small package of salt cod and a chocolate Easter egg. That's the Brazilian Easter basket.

In the next few posts, I'll provide some traditional Brazilian and Portuguese recipes for bacalhau at Easter time. The product is available in many supermarkets, and in all Portuguese and Italian markets, in North America. If you want an alternative to the Easter ham or lamb this year, go Brazilian and serve bacalhau.


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