Before refrigeration was commonplace, most Italians
found it difficult to obtain fresh fish. Because Italy
is a Catholic country where the devout were required
to eat meatless meals on Fridays and holy days,
people came to rely on salted and dried fish. Back
then, these preserved fish were inexpensive and
widely available. Many recipes evolved to make
use of this early convenience food, and today it is
part of the culinary tradition of every region of
Italy. Baccala and stoccofisso (also called pesce
stocco) are no longer inexpensive but are still often
used in Italian cooking. Baccala is salted cod,
perch, or a similar whitefish that is typically cut
into pieces and salted, and stoccofisso, or stockfish,
is left in large fillets that are air-dried until
they are hard as wood. Their name comes from
the Scandinavian word for stockfish. Markets in
Italy sell both types of the fish soaked and ready
to cook, so their names are often used interchangeably,
and in fact either type of preserved fish can
be used in recipes that call for salt and dried fish.
The biggest difference between them is the length
of time required to reconstitute them. Baccala is
usually soft and sufficiently desalinated to use
after 24 to 48 hours of soaking, while stoccofisso
requires as much as a week to become hydrated.
Another difference is that baccala is mild in taste
and smell, while stockfish is strong smelling.
Note that fresh fish can be substituted for
baccala or stoccofisso in any of the recipes that
call for salted and dried fish. Both types of preserved
fish are widely available in fish markets
and ethnic groceries.
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