Baccalà (Cod Fish) with Green Sauce
Baccalà is extremely popular in many regions of Italy, with a myriad of recipes and regional adaptations. It is one of those old-fashioned ingredients that never fails to please – at least those who like it: usually around each table there are half of the guests who love it and half who hate it, probably because of its peculiar taste. So, I hope you will be part of the first half!
The concept of consuming dry fish rehydrated was introduced in Italy around the 15th century by the seafarers from Venice, Genoa and other Mediterranean cities, who discovered how far away in Northern Europe sailors would fish cod, filet it and put it to dry hanging in the air. The fish would become as hard as a wooden stick (literally the meaning of the Dutch name “stokvis” translated in Italian as stoccafisso, a close relative of Baccalà) and would stay good for months, no refrigeration required. In most regions of Italy, the conservation method also uses sea salt and a long resting period, until the fish is almost completely dry. Very useful to have it always handy! But actually, you have to plan ahead to eat it, as it requires 36 to 48 hours rest time in fresh water to rehydrate and get soft again before you can start cooking it. You would find the Baccalà already soaked at the market especially on Fridays, traditional fish menu day, swimming (so to say) in a big tub of fresh water, with a continuous flow of clean, cold water.
Here in Los Angeles, where I live, I find Canadian Baccalà filets that are very good, meaty, and boneless. If you buy the version with the skin and the bones that I have seen in some seafood shops, it might get very complicated to clean and you would end up wasting a lot of it.
Cod is very rich in lean protein, several minerals and B vitamin. On the other hand, it is low on healthy Omega 3 fatty acids compared to other fish. But it is also low on Mercury content, so it is all in all a good addition to your diet (www.Healthline.com).
To avoid having a high content of sodium in the prepared dish, you have to rinse the salted dry cod filets and then put them in a large bowl of ice-cold water in the refrigerator for 48 hours or more. You need to change the water at least every 12 hours. It is impossible to establish a fixed amount of soaking time as the degree of saltiness can vary, and it also depends on the thickness of the filet. To decide whether the fish is ready for cooking I check its softness and taste the water: if it looks like fresh fish and the water tastes like sea water it is usually ready. If you cut the filet in portions the process will be somewhat faster. If you leave the fish longer than needed in water, it will become too bland.
The recipe I made today is popular in Liguria and a friend of mine explained it to me years ago.
It is very simple, very savory, quite quick to realize and inexpensive. It is a one-dish-dinner, and you can add some roasted potatoes on the side to make it more filling.
For 4-6 portions
1 ½ pound and half to 2 pounds center cut soaked Baccalà, boneless and skinless
1 white cabbage head, rinsed
For the sauce:
1 bunch of Italian parsley
1 tablespoon of anchovies paste (or 4-5 anchovies in oil, deboned)
2 cloves of garlic (or more)
1-2 tablespoons of capers in brine, drained
1-2 tablespoons of Pine nuts
2 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1. Put a medium pot of slightly salted water to boil.
2. Cut the cabbage in 2, and then again cut to obtain like 1-inch cubes.
3. When the water is boiling, put the cabbage to cook for approximately 10 minutes or until very tender (cooking time depends on the variety). When done, remove from water with a spider strainer, and set aside in a bowl.
4. When the water is boiling again, put the soaked baccala’, cut in large cubes, in the hot water. Cook approximately 10 minutes – or more, until the fish is tender but does not fall apart.
5. While the Baccalà is boiling, take an oven proof dish, oil lightly, and dispose a first layer of cabbage. Adjust salt and pepper.
6. When the fish is cooked, distribute sparsely on top of the cabbage.
7. Repeat the layers, finishing with the cabbage. Adjust with a little salt and pepper.
8. Now prepare the sauce: in the food processor, mix the rinsed parsley leaves, anchovies paste, capers, garlic, EV Olive oil. You can add one or two tablespoons (cooled) cooking water if the sauce is too thick. It has to be runny.
9. Pour the sauce on the cod when still very hot, sprinkle the pine nuts on top and serve immediately.
A Few Notes:
- The soaked cod can be drained and kept in the refrigerator for a day before cooking.
- You can prepare the dish in advance and reheat it in the oven. Just drizzle some olive oil on top when you finish the layers and two or three tablespoons of cooking water so that it doesn’t dry out, cover in aluminum foil and keep it at room temperature for an hour maximum; reheat covered for 10-12 minutes in a 350F warm oven. If you keep it refrigerated for a longer time (one day maximum), bring it to room temperature before reheating.
- You can also sprinkle some breadcrumbs and grated parmigiano cheese on top.
- The sauce has to be served at room temperature.
- The sauce can be used for other dishes as well, even as salad dressing!
- For a richer dish, add some raisins or dry cranberries when layering the fish: the sweet touch complements the Baccalà beautifully.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.