A dish of Spanish origins and later adapted to local Mexican ingredients, bacalao a la vizcaína is a salted cod dish perfect for special occasions and celebrations.
Ten days into the new year but, Happy New Year amigos!! I hope 2017 has gotten off to a great start for you all. Things ended on a busy note in 2016 and have continued the same in these early days of 2017. I meant to share this recipe sooner but other things needed taking care of first, and alas here it is. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as we love to eat this special dish during the holiday season. For us being Pescetarians this is a perfect hearty main dish for the holiday season or even for special occasions when we want to treat ourselves to it.
Bacalao a la vizcaína is a dish with Spanish origins, in fact the name translates to Biscay (a region of Spain) style cod. After bringing the recipe with them, the early Spanish settlers adapted it to using some of the local Mexican ingredients and in so creating the transformation that you see today. The traditional Biscay salted cod dishes are rather different than the ones here in Mexico. But one influence back that Mexico had to those traditional recipes is the inclusion of tomatoes, since those are native to the New World and were later adapted to Spanish cuisine. Our Mexican bacalao dish additionally includes the yellow peppers, or chile gueros, that are also native to this land and not used in the traditional Spanish recipes. Regardless of the differences bacalao a la vizcaína is an exquisite dish that you should try at least once in your lifetime.
The word bacalao translates to cod, but in this recipe we mean salted cod. Cod is not native to the Mexican coast so the majority of the bacalao you’ll find here in Mexico is imported from Norway — in fact because of this some people also refer to this dish as bacalao noruego or Norwegian cod. Since the cod is preserved in salt, it is of course very salty and a concern many have when making this dish is that it may be too salty. But don’t worry because the method I’m sharing guarantees a perfectly salted (or non-salty) dish. If you cannot find salted cod then you can use fresh or frozen instead — it will eliminate the whole soaking process and you can have it on the table faster.
In Mexico the recipes for bacalao can vary greatly from one family to another as well as from region to region. In addition to the ingredients I’ve included some people also add raisins and slivered almonds. I personally don’t like using either of them, but this is how I like to make mine and you are free to adapt it to your taste. Traditionally people here eat the dish with some crunchy bread on the side and I also like to include a simple steamed white rice and a green salad with an olive oil and light vinegar dressing. Again it is all up to you. Okay let’s get to the recipe!
- 500 grams or 1.1 lb. of skinless salted cod
- 375 grams 13 oz of finely chopped white onion (it was about 2.5 med-small ones)
- 475 grams or about 1 lb. of ripe roma tomato, chopped (about 5 whole)
- 6-7 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small bite-size pieces
- one large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into small pieces
- one Tablespoons of sweet paprika, optional and mostly for colour
- 60 grams or 2 oz of capers, or adjust to taste*
- 100 grams or 3.5 oz of green pitted olives (I used ones stuffed with red pepper), or adjust to taste*
- pickled long chilies gueros (or pickled mild peppers), adjust to taste*
- a very large handful of fresh parsley
- 6 Tablespoons of good quality olive oil
- extra olive oil, optional and if needed
- Rinse the cod with cold water, then place in a bowl and cover with cold water. Cover the bowl, place in the fridge and let it sit overnight. The next morning drain the water and refill with clean cold water, cover the bowl and place back in the fridge. Sometime in the evening drain the cod again and again refill with fresh water. Cover and leave overnight and in the morning repeating the process. You will need to do this for a total of 3 days. A way to be 100% sure that your cod is no longer salty is by to tasting it or putting a clean finger in the soaking water and tasting it to make sure that it isn’t salty any more — if still salty on last day of soaking you'll need to change the water every couple of hours until ready.
- After the cod has been soaked, de-salted and rehydrated, you need to pull it apart into small shreds and also remove all of the bones and any cartilage or any bits of skin left.
- In a large pot or very large pan, heat 3 Tablespoons of olive oil and once hot add the onion and cook until soft and transparent. Next add the garlic and saute for a couple of minutes, next add
- the cod and the remaining 3 Tablespoons of oil and fry until for 5 minutes. Now add the tomatoes and bell peppers, mix and cook until the tomatoes cook down. Now add the potatoes, some of the chopped parsley and the sweet paprika. Give the ingredients a good stir and cook under medium low heat until the potatoes have soften or are fork tender.
- After the potatoes have cooked add the drained olives and capers, the rest of the parsley, and optionally another 3 to 5 Tablespoons of olive oil cover, and simmer under medium-low heat for another 15 minutes. After this time taste the dish and only if needed add a little bit of salt at a time until it's to your taste. I find that for my taste the olives and capers add enough saltines to the dish, but everyone is different. Lastly add the chilies and mix them into the fish stew and if you'd like you can also add some of the pickling juice from the chilies jar.
- Serve with crunchy bread, steamed white rice and a nice simple green salad. In Mexico we like to reheat the leftovers and eat them inside of a crunchy bolillos or Mexican bread rolls. This dish keeps getting better and better the longer you let it cook and allow the flavours to develop and merge into one another. In total I cook my bacalao for at leat 1.5 hours under low heat until I see the oil separating and floating to the top. Also since this makes such a large portion we always have leftovers for the next day or two.
**The cod needs to soak for 3 days to remove the salt, but the actual prep for cooking the dish isn't too difficult.
I love absolutely everything about this cod stew! There’s the tender bits of potatoes, with the subtle fish flavours, followed by the sweet-tartness of the tomatoes, then the salty green olives and slight lemonyness of the capers then lastly the crunchy and crisp of the mild and tart chilies. There are so many flavours and yet the dish is rather simple in that no additional spices are required.
I always make more than enough for us and some guest so that we can have leftovers the next day — better yet is when I make the dish one day ahead, let it sit cooked in the overnight then reheat the next day and the next, the flavours are even more delicious.
I hope that you can make bacalao a la vizcaina sometime so you can see for yourself how amazing and special this dish truly is.
Have a beautiful day!