Baccalà salad

Baccalà, or salt-dried cod, once fueled the rise of Portugal as a global power, as it allowed the Portuguese explorers and merchants to sail across the world without starving. Interestingly, cod does not come from the Mediterranean, but rather from the North Sea. So go figure. It’s become a traditional part of the Italian Christmas Eve feast. I remember going with my dad to the Portuguese and Spanish section of Newark, NJ, to find it. In LA, you can find it in the Brazilian/Cuban shops. This recipe is not traditional, as far as I know—I think my dad made it up. He used to cook the baccalà in the more traditional way—baked with tomatoes and potatoes—but no one seemed to care for it, other than my friend’s mom, who incidentally was a Spanish teacher. So he stared making it this way, and we never again had any leftovers. It’s really quite simple—the catch is that you have to soak the fish for 2-3 days before cooking (so plan accordingly!). I never have room in the fridge for such a big pot, but I find it stays cool enough in the garage, even in LA (at Christmas time, at least) Change the water at least twice a day to draw out the excess salt. You’ll see that it starts to look more like a regular fish. In fact, you’ll find when you cook it that the oil in the fish reconstitutes. That always amazes me. Maybe that’s just part of the Christmas magic. I generally make this the night before, and typically squeeze in more lemon before serving. Note: if you make this together with the seafood salad, you can keep the same water in the pot for cooking the seafood—no need to start over with a new pot.

What you need

  • Baccalà (1 slab)

  • Olive oil

  • Lemon

  • Red onion, thinly sliced

  • Olives (preferably kalamata), sliced

  • Roasted peppers or pimientos

  • Parsley

  • Red pepper flakes

Baccala or dried cod salad

How you make it

  • Soak the baccalà for 2-3 days in fresh water.
  • Bring a large pot of water to boil and briefly boil the fish until it gets flaky, just a few minutes. The thinner parts will cook faster so you can take them out sooner, if they break off. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.
  • In a large bowl, mix together a few tbsp of olive oil and juice of 1 lemon.
  • Add fish, gently breaking up into large flaky pieces.
  • Add red onion, olives, peppers, and parsley.
  • Season with red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with some nice crusty bread, with extra lemon slices and crushed red pepper for those who want.

Buon appetito!

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