Friday, April 6, 2012

Salt Cod with Roasted Peppers, Potatoes & Onions

Cuban salt cod recipe bacalao a la Vizcaina
Bacalao a la Vizcaina
Salt cod (called "bacalao" in Cuba and other Spanish-speaking countries) is another one of those foods, like liver, which evokes a powerful reaction in those who have tried it: Either you love its pungent, salty fishiness, or you detest it. In my experience, salt cod is an acquired taste, with people who grew up eating it being more likely to enjoy it than those who first taste it as an adult. I grew up eating--and loving--salted codfish in a traditional Cuban recipe called "Bacalao a la Vizcaina," which my mother would serve on Fridays during Lent. My version of this recipe is below, and is based on my Mom's. Sadly, Greg has never acquired a taste for salt cod, not even in the following rich and flavorful recipe, so I rarely make it. This year, however, I'm treating myself to Bacalao a la Vizcaina for Good Friday.

Bacalao a la Vizcaina has its roots in the Basque region of Spain. Accordingly, I recommend making it with Spanish olive oil and a mild smoked paprika from Spain ("pimentón"). But you can certainly use other olive oils or paprika. Salt cod usually can be found in tiendas and grocery stores catering to the Latin American community. I was able to find it in the frozen seafood section of my local Whole Foods store. This "gourmet" salt cod was less salty and less "fishy" than that which I've found in Latino markets, where it is much more heavily salted and drier in texture, and not sold refrigerated or frozen.
salt cod bacalao
Salt cod, soaked & simmered

To prep the salted codfish for this recipe, you will need to soak it for at least 24 hours before you plan on cooking it, changing the water a few times during the soak. I always soak it in the refrigerator, but many recipes say one can soak it safely without refrigeration--after all, salting is an age-old way of preserving fish. Try to buy boneless salted cod, as that will save you a LOT of time (otherwise, you'll have to manually pick out all the bones before making this recipe).

Traditionally, Bacalao a la Vizcaina is served topped with a few fried rounds of Cuban or French bread, but my Mom never did this. Instead, she served her bacalao over cooked white rice, which is also an authentic way to serve the dish, and my preferred way to eat it. My recipe makes 4 to 6 hearty servings.

1 lb boneless salt cod, soaked as described above
1 lb potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4" thick rounds (I leave them unpeeled)
1 large onion, sliced into thin rings
1 large green bell pepper, cut into thin strips
3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup olive oil plus a little more for the saucepan
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup water (preferably from the water used to simmer the cod)
1 tsp white vinegar
1 1/2 cups canned diced or crushed tomatoes (I use fire-roasted tomatoes)
3/4 cup (or 6oz jar, undrained) diced roasted red peppers ("pimientos morrones")

1/2 Tbs Pimentón (mild smoked Spanish paprika) or other paprika
Black pepper to taste: I use several grinds from my pepper mill
2 whole roasted red peppers, sliced into thin long strips (for garnish)

sauce for Cuban bacalao
Sauce for bacalao
Place the soaked cod in a pot, cover with fresh water and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until the cod is tender (about 30 mins). This is a good time to slice the potatoes, onion and bell pepper, and to prepare the sauce. When the cod is tender and can be broken apart with a fork, drain well but reserve 1/3 cup of the water. Break the cod apart into chunks, pick out all the bones if not using boneless cod, and set it aside.

While the cod is simmering, prepare the sauce by combining the garlic, 1/3 cup oil, wine, vinegar, tomatoes, diced roasted peppers, paprika and black pepper in a food processor or blender. When the cod has finished simmering, add the reserved water to the food processor or blender. Cover and pulse a few times to slightly puree, stopping before the sauce gets smooth.

Bacalao a la Vizcaina Cuban salt cod
Cuban Salt Cod with Potatoes, Onions & Roasted Peppers
In a large, deep lidded saucepan or skillet, add just enough oil (less than 1 Tbs) to coat the bottom lightly. Layer the potatoes, followed by the cod chunks, then ladle or pour about half of the sauce over the cod. Layer the onions on top of the cod, followed by the bell pepper, and then pour the remainder of the sauce over this. Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat and simmer gently, partially covered, for about 45 minutes to 1 hour until the vegetables are tender and cooked (most of the liquid will cook off, leaving a thick red sauce). Uncover, stir and serve over white rice, garnished with the strips of roasted red pepper.

Zestfully yours,

PS: If fresh fish is more your taste, you can order it from our partner The Crab Place.


  1. That looks absolutely delicious! Thanks for sharing.

  2. You're most welcome, and thanks so much for your comment! If you end up trying the recipe, please feel free to share your feedback, any modifications, pics, etc.

    Zestfully yours,