Cod is considered by many to be the world’s most important saltwater fish. It was certainly the first fish to become widely popular, consumed in large quantities since the Upper Paleolithic period. Nice flavor, white flesh, and flaky texture aside, cod historically has been valued because it has the wonderful quality of being easy to preserve. Simply by salting, and even by drying alone, cod could last for years. For millennia, salt cod or dried cod was the only fish available inland, away from the coasts, and it was one of the few foods that could be transported by ship during long voyages without getting moldy. It was at one time a nearly universal food, and was a staple in Scandinavian countries, the countries of the Iberian Peninsula, Africa, and North America.
Cod was the food that fueled the “Age of Vikings.” From the ninth century to the eleventh, Scandinavian seafaring warriors raided and colonized widely in Europe, spreading outward and establishing settlements from Russia to Iceland—and, some theorize, even as far afield as North America. It was cod that both provisioned and financed the Norsemen’s voyages. Their unspoilable cargo, which was sometimes called the “beefsteak of the sea,” made it possible to stay at sea for long periods without concern for food, but also gave the Vikings a medium of trade, for these Norsemen were traders almost as often as they were conquerors. A healthy fish-processing industry in Iceland and Norway during the ninth century made it possible to supply foreign markets as well as domestic ones. Continue reading