Method

Freshly salted cod must be soaked for a full 24 hours with frequent changes of water. And then, before it is served, it should be boiled in two waters.

Air-dried cod or stockfish* is prepared as follows: Place a dried cod in a wooden vessel, pour on a strong alkaline solution, and change the solution once a day for the next four days. Then pour away the alkaline solution, cover the fish with water mixed with quicklime, and set aside for a day until the fish just turns white. Rinse again and soak for another day in river water, changing the water thrice during the day.

In winter, it is practical to prepare enough fish for several occasions, using what is immediately necessary and setting the rest aside. To cook the fish, cover a 4–5 lb piece with water and place it over a moderate fire on top of the stove. When the water becomes warm, pour it off, and cover the fish with fresh water. Repeat as often as necessary until the water is no longer sticky. Then heat the water but do not let it boil, which will toughen the stockfish. Drain the fish in a coarse sieve, salt it slightly, and transfer to a platter. Cover to keep warm until it is served.

Another, faster, way of preparing stockfish is as follows: In the evening pound the stockfish thoroughly with the butt end of a wooden ax or cleaver. Soak the fish overnight in river water and, the next day, boil it in salted water.

Best of all is the third method: Cut up a dried cod, wash the pieces in two waters, and soak the pieces for a week in a very strong brine, i.e., in very salty cold water. Then, remove the cod from the brine and press slightly. Bring fresh, slightly salted water to a rapid boil, add the cod, immediately set the pan over a low fire, and let it boil for 3 hours. Serve with butter, eggs, etc.

Fresh cod, of course, is the tastiest.

*According to Alan Davidson, the air-drying of codfish reduces its water content to about 16 percent. More moisture is retained if the fish is salted before drying. Simple drying without salt is the older method, and cod and other fish preserved by this method are called stockfish. (Davidson, North Adantic Seafood, 54.) Dried stockfish was already being imported into England from western Norway in the ninth century. The hardness of the fish was legendary; it had to be beaten, often for a full hour, and then soaked before cooking. In Elizabethan England, the stockfish hammer was a familiar kitchen utensil. (Wilson, Food and Drink in Britain, 30, 44.) The Church calendar with its many fast days, the poverty of the people, and the lack of alternatives all help explain the widespread consumption of stockfish in medieval and early modern Europe despite the difficulty of preparation and, all too frequently, the unpalatability of the result. The same religious and economic factors were still operative in nineteenth-century Russia.

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