What to Eat in France: Morue à la marseillaise, Marseille-style Salt Cod
One might ask why the Mediterranean countries — and locations such as Marseille — which have their own fishing waters, would dry a cold water fish such as cod. Fish are not always plentiful enough, for one thing, and when bad harvests arrived, it was handy to fall back on salted fish, which keeps for years. Traditionally, Catholics had to have fish on hand for Fridays, when they were not allowed to eat meat. During the Norwegian famine in 1315-17, Clifford A. Wright says that the Norwegians allowed export of their stockfish and butter in exchange for import of malt, flour, salt, and other commodities they were lacking — things that were readily available in the south. In addition, most salt at that time came from the Mediterranean, so the Nordic countries needed it to make their salt cod.
The term morue is generally thought to mean “salt cod,” but technically speaking, it’s simply dried, salted fish of the Gadiformes family. The word stockfish, probably from the Dutch stokvis, is used in many other countries. In contemporary cuisine, one sees the term morue fraîche, which has come to mean “fresh cod,” even though there’s a perfectly good word for fresh cod in French: cabillaud.