“The taste of stockfish is life… We can’t cook without stockfish.”
That’s the verdict of women at the bustling Onyingbo market in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, as they carefully choose pieces of the specially dried cod.
Heads stare up from market stalls while whole bodies hanging on metal hooks sway in the humid breeze. Bundles of the golden-coloured fish have been cut into different sizes and are sold by weight.
The smell of stockfish is pungent and clings to the back of your throat. No wonder; the fish has been hung up to dry for three months until it is as dry as a tree bark.
As the moisture drips out, the flavour of the fish deepens to create a rich, intense and complex taste.
It is perfect for a Nigerian palate, which favours big and bold flavours such as fermented locust beans and chilli pepper, says young chef Michael Elegbde.
Based in Lagos, Mr Elegbde is a rising star in Nigeria’s culinary world – and his signature dishes revolve around stockfish. Growing up, he spent a lot of time helping his grandmother in the kitchen, and she loved stockfish as a key ingredient in traditional dishes.
“When we got home and we smelled the boiling stockfish we knew grandma is cooking, and now when I smell stockfish that nostalgia of my grandmother immediately kicks into my head,” he recalls.