Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Salt Cod (Bacalhau) - Some Buying Tips

We're now well into Lent and only a few weeks away from Easter. Which means it's salt cod (bacalhau) season in Brazil. Long since having moved upmarket from a Lenten food for the poor to a luxurious holiday treat, salt cod is served in abundance throughout the 40 days of Lent, even by Brazilians who are not observant Catholics, or for that matter, Christians at all.

When one walks into a Brazilian supermarket at this time of year there are two things that immediately strike one's senses, reminding you that Easter-season is nigh. Your eyes are struck by the bright multi-colored foil wrappings of giant chocolate Easter eggs suspended overhead, and your nose is hit by the unmistakable aroma of salt cod - fishy and redolent of the sea, yet earthy at the same time.

Because salt cod is an expensive food item these days, there is a wide range of product available at a wide range of prices in most supermarkets. The national chains are always looking for ways to offer a less-expensive alternative for those who cannot afford the best pieces of this dried fish. It's important to know a bit about salt cod when buying it - what the differences are from piece to piece, and whether a particular piece is worth the price or not.

Here are some tips to keep in mind when buying salt cod, whether at Easter or at any other time. They'll help you make sure you're getting the best piece of fish possible for whatever price you are paying.

  • Not all salt cod comes from the same species - for that matter not all salt cod is even from cod species. The best salt cod comes from true Atlantic cod (species: Gadus morhua). Other species, such as Ling, Pollock and Zarbo are inferior (in roughly that order).
  • If not identified on the packaging, true cod can be identified by the thickness of the flesh, the straightness of the tail of the fillet, and its uniform straw-like color. White-fleshed salt cod isn't true cod. Also, the skin peels easily from the flesh in true cod - use your fingers to try to peel away a small corner.
  •  Good salt cod should be quite dry, with no visible moisture. If you can bend a piece in your hands, it's not good quality.
  • Good-quality cod is covered by a uniform layer of hardened salt. The salt should be visible to the eye.

Shopping for fish, whether fresh or salted, is a matter of being a discerning customer and knowing the signals that tell you if the piece you're considering purchasing is good or bad. A little bit of knowledge can help you avoid making a mistake - and with current salt cod prices, an expensive mistake.


  1. Oi! Acabei de achar seu blog e estou maravilhada! 'E culin'aria e hist'oria junto.
    Voc^e sabe do que est'a falando.
    Eu sou do Cear'a, e minha familia mora em Fortaleza.
    Eu me casei e moro na California.
    Vejo receitas Brasileiras aqui e muitas vezes me d'a a impress~ao que a pessoa n~ao fez nada de pesquisa.
    Vou mandar seu link pr'a Brazileirada toda que conheco por aqui e uns Americanos tamb'em.
    Estou te colocando na minha lista de blogs.
    Parab'ens pelo trabalho!
    Ana Paula.

  2. Oi Ana Paula - Muito obrigado pelos elogios. Fico feliz que gosta do blog. Agradeco tambem por me ajudar com maior conhecimento do blog na internet. Vou fazer igual com o seu blog.

    Eh sempre um prazer conhecer mais dos leitores de Flavors of Brazil, e acho maravilhosa ter uma cearense-americana na turma.


  3. James,
    Sou uma americana que mora no Brasil. Já passei dicas suas escritas em inglês para os meus pais (que moram perto de Baltimore, Maryland). Irei passar o natal com eles este ano. Onde que eu posso comprar bacalhau salgado -- é possível encomendar de um fornecedor conhecido ou até online? Agradeço qualquer dica! Parabens pelo seu blog. Excelente!!
    um abraço,

  4. Ola Liz! Thanks for the kind words about the blog. And I think it's a great idea to show your parents how Brazilians eat at Christmas time - with bacalhau.

    I found a thread on buying bacalhau (salt cod/baccala/etc.) on a site called Chowhounds. It seems it's not difficult to find in the Baltimore area. Here's a link to the discussion.

    Bom apetite e feliz Natal!