If there is a distinction between cabillaud and morue in France, it is because it was the only country to have two different fishing techniques: one for fresh cod and the other for cod that would then be salted on board the fishing boats.

The word cabillaud only appeared in French in the 13th century, derived from the Dutch word for Atlantic cod, kabeljauw. But fresh cod was not really eaten until the 16th century, and then only by the rich.

Salt cod has always been widely consumed. Easy to salt and dry, it can withstand long journey, keeps well, and is readily available.

Trade in salt cod was intense throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. During their conquests in the 9th and 10th centuries, the Vikings were responsible for its spread. They were the creators of stockfish because they dried cod on racks until they became as hard as wood, hence the name, since stock comes from stick.

The Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the waters of which were rich in cod, were first discovered by the Basques in the 16th century during their whale hunt. Cod fishing would endure there for four centuries, carried by more than 10,000 fishermen for months at a time. One group fished on the high sea and brought back wet salted cod. Another set up on the coasts, fishing for cod and drying it.

Distant and difficult (the fishing season in the Arctic lasted nine months), cod fishing inspired a number of novels.

Nowadays, modern and highly sophisticated trawlers have replaced the terre-neuvas, with the consequence that cod is increasingly scarce. Catch quotas have now been imposed everywhere in order to preserve stocks. Tentative attempts are being made to farm cod.

Fresh cod

The flesh should be white, shiny, firm, and should not smell of ammonia.

Salt cod

This is presented in different ways:

Wet salted or “green” cod

Despite the term “green”, this fish is white. The cod is salted immediately after capture on board the fishing boats.

When caught, the fish are opened and the head, guts, and the main bones removed. Having become triangles with a skin side and a flesh side, they are washed, rinsed, and drained, then salted and stacked one on top of the other.

Rare in France, wet salt cod is still common in the Mediterranean area, and particularly in Portugal, where it is the base of the traditional dish bacalhau.

Salted cod

Most of the wet salted cod is taken to factories, where it is resalted then treated in different ways.

The fillets are brushed, washed, peeled, and boned; they are often bleached: sulfur dioxide (E220) is authorized for this purpose, at a maximum rate of 100 mg per kilo.

Dried cod (stockfish)

Industrially produced dried cod begins as wet salted cod that is cured in ventilated ovens.

Genuine stockfish comes from the north coast of Norway. Cleaned immediately after capture, they are hung on wooden racks in the open air for several months (February through May). The curing process continues in drying cellars for a number of weeks until the fish have lost at least 70% of their weight. 

Cod is sold fresh in slices and in fillets. It is also sold frozen: in natural fillets and as croquettes, mostly breaded.

In France, salted and dried cod is sold as “tails” or packaged in bags.

Cod roe collected from females after capture is smoked and vacuum packed. It is sometimes sold as “mock bottarga” (the real thing is made from mullet roe).

Cod liver is sold in cans.

Cod flesh is fragile. It must always be cooked quickly and delicately. It can be pan-fried plain or breaded, baked or braised, steamed, or poached in fumet.

Salted cod needs to be de-salted for a long time, either under running water or soaked in several changes of water. The best way to judge how much it has been de-salted is to taste a small piece: it should not be too bland.

It is then cooked in water for just a few minutes, otherwise it will become hard. It is then flaked and boned.

Stockfish needs to be soaked until it softens.

A large number of traditional recipes use salt cod, especially in Portugal with its famous bacalhau. There are hundreds of recipes. There are a large number of dishes in Italy that make use of stocafisso or stocco.

Without salt cod, France would not have brandade nîmoise, or any brandade at all. It is a basic ingredient of le grande aïoli, can be made into fritters, accras, and rougail, or added to a salad. Estofinado is a typical dish from Aveyron. Estocafic is also known as Nice-style stockfish.

Fresh cod can be kept in a refrigerator or cool room at 4ºC for 24–48 hours.

Frozen whole sea bass or fillets can be stored in the freezer after delivery until their use.

Salted or dried cod can be kept until the date indicated on the packaging.

Any way you find it, cod is a white fish that is rich in protein, B-group vitamins, and minerals.

Even after de-salting, cod still has a high sodium (salt) content and should not be eaten with other salty foods (such as cheese) in the same meal. It is not recommended for people suffering from high blood pressure who are on a low-sodium diet.

High in Omega 3 and vitamin D, cod liver oil was for a long time given to children to make them strong. It now comes in easy-to-swallow capsules.

True cod

There are three species of true cod:

Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua): fished from January through March.

Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus): caught throughout the year, especially in winter.

Greenland cod (Gadus ogac): fished all year round.

Skrei or Norwegian Arctic cod is a species of cod that lives in the Barents Sea (Arctic Ocean) that goes to spawn hundreds of kilometers away in the Lofoten Islands, to the north of Norway, from January through April. This is when it is captured, caught only using longlines, according to quotas set to preserve the species. It is considered the best cod.

Other fish known as cod

Although once considered a commonplace and extremely abundant fish, the varieties of true cod cod have become rare as a result of overfishing.

Cod is also the name given to another family of related fish, the Moridae.

Among them are the Arctic cod, the East Siberian cod, saffron cod, polar cod, Pelagic cod, smallhead cod, Feliciatus Winterus, etc.

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