Fish that was salted before it was dried lasted even longer. The Basques, unlike the Vikings, had salt. And - the more durable a product, the easier to sell or trade. By the year 1000, the Basques had expanded their cod markets to a truly international trade that reached far from the cods’ northern habitat.
It was like gold.
But where did all this cod come from? The Basques simply wouldn’t tell. They delivered larger and larger amounts of tasty, salted dried cod - and they became rich. Neither Scandinavians, nor British had seen them out on the sea. The Bretons, who had tried to follow them, began talking about a land across the sea, but no one could solve the mystery.
When Columbus took his bows for his discovery of America in 1492, the fishermen still kept their secret.
5 years later the genovese Caboto sailed from Bristol in hopes of finding the route to Asia that Columbus had missed, and after 35 days at sea he found land, though it wasn’t Asia. It was a vast, rocky coastline that was ideal for salting and drying fish, by a sea that was teemening with cod. Caboto reported back home about the cod as an evidence of the wealth of this new land, New Found Land.
1534 Jaques Carter arrived, and claimed the whole area for France. Carter also noted the presence of 1,000 Basque fishing vessels, and the mystery was finally solved: Basques, had commuted over the whole Atlantic ocean for decades, long before Columbus, before the Vikings, keeping their secret to themselves.
The dried fish is white, delicate, and tender once it’s re-hydrated. In Andalucía it’s used in many traditional dishes, not the least for Easter, but you can also eat it as it is.
A thin slice on fresh bread with some olive oil, and a cup of coffee during a break from the work in the campo is almost worth dying for.
Bacalao is the Spanish term.
And without it Columbus never would have been able to take his men very far.