Bacalao The Origin, The Fish, A Recipe


One of the dishes that is served during Mexican holidays is Bacalao. In our home my aunt, Tia Celina visits us during the holidays in Mexico and makes famous Bacalao Dominican style. There are many recipes as this dish is served in Spain, Portugal, as well as every island and Latin American country at Christmas and lent.

Bacalao (pronounced [bah-kah-LAH-oh]) is the Spanish term for dried and salted codfish. Dried and salted cod–and the dishes that include it–are known by several different names, many of which come from the root “bacal.” The Portuguese word for salt cod is bacalhau while in Italian it is baccalà, and in Croatia it is bakalar. But this fish is not just part of Mediterranean cuisine. In Norway, it is known as klippfisk and it goes by saltfiskur in Iceland and moure in France. It is also known simply as saltfish, particularly in the Caribbean.

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The Fish

Historically, and before overfishing occurred, bacalao was solely Atlantic cod. But more recently it includes varieties of whitefish such as Pollack, haddock and blue whiting. It is purchased dried and then needs to be rehydrated and the salt removed before it is added to a dish. This is done by soaking the fish in water for one to three days, changing the water two to three times a day.

Once it is rehydrated, Bacalao becomes delicate and tender. Although previously only eaten by the poor, it is now considered a delicacy. Bacalao is offered in a few different cuts, the thick-cut, square pieces of the loin Morro or Lomo being the most sought-after.

As part of observing Lent, Spanish Catholics made Bacalao a staple at their Friday night dinner table. There are many delicious preparations for salted codfish, but a given is that it is served with a sauce, such as tomato, paprika or vegetables in wine.



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How to Prepare Bacalao

There are many Caribbean recipes calling for Bacalao. To prepare Bacalao for a recipe you will have to soak the fish in fresh water to remove the excess salt used to preserve the flesh. The best method for soaking Bacalao is to cover the fish with approximately 2 inches of cold water in a large bowl.

Put the bowl in the refrigerator and soak for up to 3 days, changing the water at least 3 times a day.

Different brands and varieties of salt fish differ in degrees of saltiness. Less salty varieties need less soaking time, sometimes just one day. You can test it by tasting a small piece for saltiness after 24 hours of soaking. You want the Bacalao to be slightly salty, not overpowering.

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Bacalao con Papa Recipe (Codfish with Potato a la Dominicana)

Prep Time 3 hours, Cook Time 1 hours, Total Time 4 hours

Here is my Tia Celina’s Recipe. She makes it with or without the bell peppers! If you use more potatoes, you can skip the rice. Bacalao con Papa Recipe (Codfish & Potato a la Dominicana): an example of how exotic ingredients ended up being very common elements of Dominican cuisine. This is the traditional Friday dish during lent in our country.

Servings: 6 servings


2 lb. [0.9 kg] of salted dried codfish

1 lb. [0.48 kg] of potatoes peel and cut into slices like scalloped.

1/2 a gallon of water (plus a cup)

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 small onion, cut into thin slices (some us red onions here)

1/4 cup of seeded olives, sliced

Small can of peas

2 green bell peppers, diced into slices

4 plum tomatoes cubed

1 teaspoon of crushed garlic

1 cup of tomato sauce

1 teaspoon of salt (or more, to taste)

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Soak the codfish in abundant water overnight, or boil for a few hours while constantly rinsing out the excess salt.

Boil the codfish and potatoes in half a gallon of water till tender. Flake the codfish and set both aside.

In a pot heat the oil over medium heat. Cook and stir the onion, olives, peas, bell pepper, and tomatoes, until the onions become translucent. Add 1 cup of water and simmer over low heat for 3 minutes. Add the codfish, potatoes and tomato sauce, stir.

Season with salt to taste.

Garnish with hard boiled eggs, a piece of parley or parsley sprinkles and eat as is or serve over white rice.

You can leave out the hard boiled egg, bell pepper, peas, etc. replace it with what you do like!

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About Aura Holguin-Resch 286 Articles
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