Food Adventures

Friday, January 25, 2008

Baccalà (salted cod)

Salted cod (baccalà in Italian) is one of those things people either love or hate. I had heard very few positive things about it; most people ate it around Christmas as kids (and some still do) and would rather not discuss the experience. Well, I have to disagree with them and put myself in the category of those who love it.

Until last July, I had not tried salted cod. Since it is one of the typical Italian ingredients (particularly popular in and around Venice), we studied it in the Tradition of Italian Food II course. Related to salted cod (baccalà) is stockfish. Baccalà is made from cod that has been cleaned on the boats right after it’s caught and then submerged in barrels of salt so it can be preserved for a long time. Stockfish, on the other hand, is dried on wooden grills at low temperatures (about 0 degrees Celsius or 32F), exposed to cold air and the occasional winter sun in Northern climates. As a result, stockfish (dried cod) is a tougher and tastes quite different when cooked.

I prefer baccalà: it is softer and juicier, with none of the texture of jerky. There are, of course, many ways to prepare baccalà and, while I liked all three that we tried in class, my favorite (perhaps because it was the most unusual one) is baccalà all vicentina. Baccalà alla vicentina (from the town of Vicenza in the province of Veneto) is cooked in milk. When I first learned this, I thought that maybe the people who hate baccalà had a good reason for doing so. The recipe calls for baccalà sandwiches, stuffed with parsley, garlic and parmiggiano. You sauté some red onions, add the baccalà sandwiches and, after browning them on both sides, add milk to cover them and simmer for about an hour. Easy enough! But baccalà and milk?!? Well, my first bite of baccalà alla vicentina convinced me to count myself amongst those who really like baccalà.

So, for my first baccalà-cooking experience at home, I decided to go with baccalà alla vicentina. It seemed like the perfect comfort food for a freezing day in Chicago: the milk becomes creamy and infused with the aromas of garlic and parmiggiano.

Since baccalà is very salty, before cooking it, you need to soak it in water for anywhere between 24 and 48 hours (depending on how salty it is), changing the water several times. In a pinch, you can leave the fish under running water for several hours; this does the trick. I put the fish in water in the fridge about 24 hours before I was going to cook it. I changed the water 5 times in the course of 24 hours. It was perfect!

After sautéing the baccalà, onions, garlic, and parsley in a little bit of olive oil, I added the milk (about 2 cups for .75 lb of fish) and simmered everything for an hour. Then, I sprinkled some parmiggiano and a little bit of ground nutmeg and put the baccalà in the oven so the cheese would melt.

The traditional way of serving the dish is on squares of fried polenta.


At 6:37 AM CST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! I grew up eating baccala. My grandmother soaked it for 3 days, then baked it in a casserole dish with potatoes, tomato, olives ect. It was delicious :)

At 7:47 PM CST, Blogger Viktorija said...

Hi, Maryann! Thanks for the comment. I am glad to hear you have fond memories on baccala.



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