How to cook bacalao fish: Bacalao Guisado (Puerto Rican Fish Stew) Recipe
Bacalao Guisado (Puerto Rican Fish Stew) Recipe
Bacalao Guisado (Puerto Rican Fish Stew)
Credit: Photographer: Fred Hardy II, Food Stylist: Margaret Monroe Dickey, Prop Stylist: Phoebe Hauser
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What Is Bacalao?
Bacalao is the Spanish name for salted, dried codfish. Salted dried codfish is used in many cuisines ranging from the Caribbean up through northern Europe. The salt, coupled with the drying process, helps to preserve the fish and extend its shelf life. Bacalao is often featured in stews like this Puerto Rican fish stew. Here, we swap in fresh cod for two reasons. First, it helps cut down on prep time as bacalao requires overnight soaking to release some of the salt. Second, using fresh cod helps reduce the overall amount of sodium in the dish.
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pound flaky white fish, such as haddock, tilapia or cod (see Tip), cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
- 1 Anaheim or poblano chile pepper, chopped
- ¼ cup packed chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 tablespoons sliced pimento-stuffed green olives
- 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup water, as needed
- 1 avocado, chopped (optional)
- Step 1
Heat oil in a large high-sided skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
- Step 2
Add fish, tomatoes and their juices, chile pepper, cilantro, olives, capers, oregano and salt; stir to combine. Add up to 1/2 cup water if the mixture seems dry. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from the heat. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with avocado (if using).
Opt for firmer hook-and-line-caught haddock or U.S.-farmed tilapia. Cod also works, but will be more flaky. For more information about sustainable seafood visit Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch at seafoodwatch.org.
Bacalhau (Portuguese Salt Cod Stew) Recipe
Portuguese salt cod stew (bacalhau or bacalhoada) is layered and baked in the oven. Made with salt cod, potatoes, hard boiled eggs, onions, olives, and lots of olive oil, it’s a satisfying recipe for cozy nights.
Elise founded Simply Recipes in 2003 and led the site until 2019. She has an MA in Food Research from Stanford University.
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Updated February 04, 2022
The first time my Brazilian friend and fellow food blogger Fernanda mentioned wanting to make a Portuguese salt cod stew (aka Bacalao or Bacalhoada), I was intrigued.
Given how well Fernanda’s salmon fish stew had turned out, I was game to try it!
What Is Salt Cod?
Salt cod isn’t one of those easily-found-in-the-supermarket items.
For hundreds of years, codfish preserved in salt may have been a food staple in North America and Europe. But with the advances of modern refrigeration in the last century, it’s been sort of hard to come by actually, for decades.
Too bad it’s so hard to find, as the drying process that preserves salt cod greatly concentrates its flavor.
Names for Salt Cod Stew: Bacalhoada, Bacalhau, and Bacalao
The minute I first tasted Fernanda’s bacalhoada, as it is called in Portuguese (or Bacalao in Spanish), I knew I had to make it.
We found the salt cod at a local Italian specialty food market. Fernanda’s instructions came with ingredients and method but not quantities. So for the most part, I’m guessing here, based on my memory of the dish and on other bacalhoada and bacalao recipes I’ve found online.
Most recipes I found have salt cod, potatoes, and onions as a base. Many of the recipes also layered in sliced fresh tomatoes, which would be perfect in the summertime.
I’ve double-layered this dish in a Dutch oven and cooked it on the stove-top. Most recipes I found used a broad casserole dish, only had one layer of fish, and baked it in the oven. The hard boiled eggs, surprisingly, really work with the flavors of this dish.
Tips for Bacalhoada Salt Cod Stew
- Adjust for salt. If you’ve changed the soaking water several times, you may end up rinsing away all of the fish’s salt. In which case, you’ll have to add some back in. Make sure you taste the fish before you layer it in the casserole, so you’ll know if and how much salt to add.
- Add plenty of olive oil. It helps to be liberal with the olive oil. If you get the stew on your plate and it tastes a little dry, add more olive oil. The oil is what binds all of the flavors together.
Variations of Salt Cod Stew to Try
Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod, and the varieties of recipes that highlight bacalhau are numerous. Salt cod stew recipes spread throughout the countries colonized by Portugal and throughout Europe, as well, during the time salting and drying cod was the only way you could preserve the fish (long before refrigeration). In the 20th Century, salt cod stew spread to Norway, by way of Spain and Italy.
The well-revered cod itself is an import from Norway. Portuguese fisherman brought the salted fish back from Norwegian waters in the 16th Century.
Some make it with or without tomatoes. Others soak in milk, while others would never let dairy touch their fish. Variations include different types of olives (or none), with or without hard boiled eggs. Some add garlic, others put in shallots.
However you make your salt cod stew, add what you like to match your own tastes.
Looking for a Bacalao Recipe?
The Spanish relative of this Portuguese dish is bacalao. It’s similar in that it uses salt cod, onions, potatoes and olives, but also includes tomatoes. The Spanish version was introduced into Norwegian cuisine, and is spelled bakalao in Norwegian.
Here’s Marta Rivera’s Bacalao Guisado recipe, which is Puerto Rican and similiar to the Spanish version. It contains tomatoes and is cooked on the stove-top.
How to Store and Reheat Salt Cod Stew
This bacalhoada recipe makes a pretty large pot, so you may have some leftovers to enjoy later. Just cool the stew to room temperature, and you can place the whole covered pot in the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to reheat the stew, just transfer the pot to your stove-top and reheat gently over low heat until heated through. Salt cod stew will keep covered in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
What to Serve with Salt Cod Stew
- No Knead Bread
- Easy Boiled Long Grain Rice
- Rice Pilaf
- Arugula Corn Salad with Bacon
- Caesar Salad
More Cod Recipes to Try
- Bacalao Guisado (Salt Cod Stew)
- Cod Fish Cakes
- Escabeche (Pacific Black Cod)
- Baked Cod with Ritz Cracker Topping
- Moqueca (Brazilian Fish Stew)
to 8 servings
1 pound salt cod fillets, preferably skinless and boneless
3/4 to 1 cup good-quality extra virgin olive oil
2 large yellow or sweet Vidalia onions, sliced
2 pounds waxy potatoes (Yukon Gold works great), peeled
4 large eggs, hard boiled and sliced
About 40 pitted black olives (I used Kalamata olives; can also use green olives)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Soak the salt cod in water:
Salt cod typically comes either in dry fillets, already boned and skinned, or it comes whole. The fillets need to be rinsed, then soaked in water, and kept chilled, for 24 hours, with one or two changes of the water.
If you are using a whole fish, not prepared fillets, it needs to be soaked in water for up to 48 hours, also with several changes of water, and the bones and the skin removed and discarded after soaking.
Preheat the oven (optional):
If you plan to bake the bacalhoada, instead of simmering it on the stove, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Simmer the salt cod in milk and/or water:
Put salt cod in a saucepan. Add enough milk, water, or a mixture of milk and water to just cover. Bring mixture to a simmer. Let simmer for a couple minutes. Remove the fish and set aside.
Parboil the potatoes and slice:
Parboil the potatoes for 20 minutes (you can cook them in the water you used to cook the fish if you want). Slice potatoes into 1/4-inch thick rounds.
Layer the casserole:
In a large pyrex casserole or Dutch oven (use a Dutch oven if making on a stove-top), generously coat the bottom with olive oil. Place a layer of sliced onions over the bottom of the pan.
Place a layer of sliced potatoes over the onions.
Breaking up the salt cod with your fingers, place pieces of salt cod in a layer over the potatoes. Taste the fish for saltiness. After a day of soaking and further cooking, there should be just a hint of saltiness in the fish. If most of the salt was soaked out of the fish, and the fish doesn’t taste at all salty, you may need to sprinkle some salt back onto the fish as you place the layers down.
Generously pour some olive oil over the fish. Sprinkle with freshly grated black pepper.
Repeat with another layer of onions, potatoes, fish, olive oil, pepper (and more salt if needed).
Then finish with layers of onions, potatoes, more olive oil, sliced hard boiled eggs, and olives.
Cook on the stovetop or bake:
Place on stovetop on medium heat, and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Or bake, covered in a preheated 350°F oven for 30 to 40 minutes, or until everything is completely cooked through.
Serve with sides of rice and salad, or some crusty bread.
Bacalao — the national Catalan product
Bacalao or, as we are used to, cod is an integral part of the Catalan diet. Carcasses and fillets of this salted fish are sold in every supermarket, markets and fairs. There are even special shops that do not sell anything other than cod! We will show one of these authentic shops on our excursion “Delicious Born”
Bacalao or, as we are used to, cod is an integral part of the Catalan diet.
The first and logical question: “Is there cod in the Mediterranean Sea?” No, not and never have been. To date, the record-breaking cod catchers are China, Indonesia and India. According to statistics, every tenth fish caught in the world is cod. Cod is supplied to Catalonia by Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, which are part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Cod is one of the most useful and at the same time dietary fish. The protein content in 100 grams of cod is about 17 grams, and the fat content is only 0.6 grams.
Enough statistics! Let’s see how miraculously cod came to Catalonia and firmly took the place of one of the staple foods of this region. Back in 1085, one of the best navigators of that time were the inhabitants of the Basque country (northern Spain). These brave sailors were famous, first of all, for whale hunting. Their whaling ships cut through the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, and in the form of a catch, they brought tons of whale oil and salted meat. But, gradually, the whale population began to decrease due to the vigorous activity of whalers. It became increasingly difficult to find whales, and returning with empty holds was an unacceptable luxury. This is where the cod came to the rescue! According to Basque legends, the schools of cod were so dense and numerous that the ships could not continue moving, finding themselves inside one of these schools. There was plenty of salt in the holds, so they began to catch and salt cod. It was easy prey, all that was needed was to lower the nets and bring them overflowing to the deck. A rich catch had to be sold, so caravans pulled by mules went towards the glorious kingdom of Aragon, which for many centuries included Catalonia. The locals fell in love with the product for several reasons — the fish is tasty, it can be stored for a long time (up to 2 years) and without observing special conditions, and most importantly — the low price!
There are more than 200 recipes for cooking bacalao in the Basque country, about 50 in Catalonia. . There are more than 200 bacalao recipes in the Basque country, and about 50 in Catalonia. How is salted cod prepared? First of all, the fish needs to be soaked in water, usually it is soaked for 2 days, changing the water 6-8 times. When excess salt comes out of the cod, it can be cooked — baked on a vegetable pillow, fried, stewed, served with a variety of sauces — mushroom, creamy, vegetable, and so on, croquettes and various tapas are prepared from it.
In Russia, cod is also caught, but in our latitudes it is mostly frozen. Cod in salt is definitely better! Why? The answer is simple. When defrosting, tissue juice is lost, which leads to a slight decrease in the content of proteins, vitamins and minerals in such fish, and of course affects its taste properties.
Bakalao in Norwegian. First attempt — Ranya — Learn
In Spanish, bacalao is salted and dried cod, but in Norwegian, bacalao is a dish with salted and dried cod, potatoes and tomatoes. “Bacalao is quintessentially Norwegian!” Ellen exclaimed when I returned from Portugal last summer and colorfully described and even showed how huge pieces of bacalao hang in Portuguese supermarkets. “The cod is salted and dried here in the North of Norway!”, Ellen was touched with enthusiasm and immediately began to give advice on how to cook a real Norwegian bacalao. “The main thing is to soak the cod!” she finished her patriotic monologue. Needless to say, Ellen was not alone in her enthusiasm. Siv, with the same patriotism, gave me tips and recipes and chirped for a long time about her mother-in-law, who, in her mother-in-law’s childhood, dried and salted cod. Heidi noisily connected to Siv’s confession and, rounding her eyes terribly, noticed that the best salt-dried cod in the world is, of course, Norwegian cod, because only Norwegians can properly dry and salt cod. With wild gestures, Heidi persuaded me that bacalao with potatoes and garlic was the most, well, the most delicious. Heidi was echoed by our lanky colleague Khetil with a modest reputation as the best cook in our office. “Garlic will take bacalao to another level!” he shook his finger at me.
As always, I’m rocking for a long time — I bought a bag of salted-dried cod only this Friday. Remembering numerous advisers, I called Ellen in order to clarify the recipe. Ellen couldn’t give me the recipe, because it turned out she never cooked bacalao, but she read a lot about the production of salt-dried cod and the formation of a trade union movement among cod dryers. Siv didn’t share the recipe either, because her mother-in-law cooks bacalao in her family, and Siv couldn’t ask her mother-in-law for a recipe for principle reasons, and besides, to be honest, she, Siv, doesn’t like bacalao and never did. Heidi didn’t pick up the phone, but in response to my SMS she replied, “Bacalao has never cooked in my life, I just saw it on TV.” Khetil was out of reach this weekend, so I had to rely on available recipes from fish store brochures. The result was a pan with fragrant potatoes and salty cod in tomato sauce. It was highly praised, and I liked it myself. Worthy of a repeat.
750 GM of saline-smoked cod
14 Small tomato
4 cloves of garlic
100 ml of olive oil
300 ml of water
Soaked the cod since Friday evening, changed the water two or three times.
I cut the tomatoes, put them in boiling water for 10 minutes, peeled the skin and seeds, chopped them finely.