bacalao (salted cod). Bacalao (salted cod), is a dish traditionally served in Mexico (and Spain) during the Christmas to New Year period and one of my all-time-favourite dishes without a doubt (and if you know me, this is saying a lot!). I remember Christmas after Christmas as a kid sitting with my mother (and company) to shred the cod. Eagerly anticipating it (even more so than the turkey).
It is time consuming yes, but worth every bit of the work. This is my grandmother’s recipe, a take on the Spanish bacalao a la vizcaína. It really is a very special recipe, and one of the dishes she came to be known for throughout her lifetime. Her ‘secret’ was to shred the cod as thinly as possible (instead of leaving it in chunks), and to subsequently fry it in small batches. Hers was also dry, rather than ‘soupy’, so it makes for killer leftover sandwiches (even if you are a coeliac like myself, still make an effort to find a good gluten free bread).
And what to do if the bacalao turns out a bit too salty? It happens sometimes if you do not de-salt it enough in the previous days. You can add more potatoes and have them ‘soak up’ the extra salt. It really does the trick.
And, this may sound cocky (but I’ll risk it anyways), let me tell you that doing the bacalao this way really does result in one of the best bacalaos I’ve had (if not the best one). And I haven’t been the only judge of this.
Bacalao (salted cod)
- 800 g 1.8 lb dried and salted Norwegian cod
- 75 mL 5 TBS grapeseed oil (or cooking oil of choice)
- 13 medium garlic cloves peeled
- 1 large onion 380 g, finely chopped
- 15 g parsley finely chopped plus extra for serving
- 900 g 32 oz tomato puree
- 400 g 14 oz small potatoes, boiled
- 60 g 2 oz_almonds, blanched
- 150 g 5.3 oz manzanilla olives, pited
- 120 g 4.2 oz guindilla chile (chile largo) in vinegar, drained and whole
- 5-8 pimientos del piquillo sweet red Spanish peppers in salted water, sliced to serve (optional)
The cod must be de-salted and rehydrated before cooking. To do so, place cod in a bowl and cover with water. Change water 3 times a day for 3 days.
Once rehydrated, the key to the success of this dish is to shred (dezmenuzar) the cod as finely as possible (discarding the skin and bones). You want to end up cod ‘hairs’- aka extremely fine strands. A well-worth pain.
To cook, heat the oil in a good frying pan and fry the garlic cloves until golden in low heat. Once golden, squeeze the cloves with a wooden spoon, take out and discard. Add the onion into the garlic infused oil and sautee until golden brown, squeeze and drain the onion as you did with the cloves, remove from the pan and reserve. Add the parsley to the garlic and onion infused oil and simmer for a few minutes, drain as you did with the garlic and onion and reserve.
Pour the garlic, onion and parsley infused oil into a small bowl (you will be frying the flaked cod in five batches). Add 1/5 of the oil to the frying pan and 1/5 of the cod, fry (stirring constantly) until golden brown and slightly crispy. Repeat with the five batches.
Place the fried cod, reserved onions and parsley into the frying pan and begin to incorporate the tomato puree little by little. The bacalao should in no way be ‘soupy’ nor dry, so adjust the amount of the puree accordingly. Incorporate the potatoes (peeled or unpeeled), almonds, olives, and guindilla chiles. Season according to taste. Just before serving incorporate some roughly chopped parsley.
Bacalao is best prepared the day before (to accentuate the flavours), and can be served both warm and cold.
(And it is pretty incredible as a sandwich with this olive bread).
Recipe NotesInvesting in the best quality bacalao (salted cod) you can find will really make a difference in the end result.
Also, I prefer to pretty much completely 'desalt' the cod during the first three days, and once cooking season to taste with good quality salt (such as Maldon)
And what to do if the bacalao turns out a bit too salty? It happens sometimes if you do not de-salt it enough in the previous days. You can add more potatoes and have them 'soak up' the extra salt. It really does the trick.