The traditional Italian salted cod, known as baccàla in Italy, is an exquisite fish that can be enjoyed in a number of recipes—from appetizers to the main event. We wanted to share some history of the famous fish but also some of our favorite baccalà recipes.
What is Baccalà?
Just what is baccalà, anyway?
Baccalà is cod fish. To explain, cod goes by different names depending on the way it is prepared. It is simply called “cod,” or merluzzo in Italian, when it is fresh or frozen. Likewise, it is called “stockfish,” or stoccafisso, when air cured. Baccalà is the name for cod that has been cured, or preserved, with salt. The resulting fish is pleasantly flaky in texture with an irresistibly intense and unusual—but never fishy—flavor.
In Italy, baccalà is a celebrated fish and a fish for celebrations. This famous cod fish is enjoyed during the weeks leading up to Easter, known as Lent, where it is eaten on Fridays in lieu of meat. On Christmas Eve in Italy, baccalà plays a lead role in the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes. This exquisite fish is just as unique as it is versatile and can be prepared in a number of ways, from appetizers to the main event. In Naples, legend dictates that there are 365 ways to prepare it.
Though it is known as an Italian food, cod was brought to Italy from the colder, harsher north. Its history can be traced to ancient times—specifically the Middle Ages—where Viking sailors fished cod from the cold North Atlantic seas. Cod was abundant then and could be preserved by curing it in the cold and salty winds of the northern seas. The nutritious dried cod kept well and could sustain the sailors on their long and arduous journeys. Once introduced to the Mediterranean, cod became a highly traded commodity.
These days, cod is popular, but unfortunately, not as plentiful, which has only added to its appeal.
Salted Cod in Italy
In Veneto, baccalà is considered a real delicacy. Beloved regional recipes include Baccalà alla Vicentina (slowly braised with onions, anchovies and milk) and Baccalà Mantecato (an elaborate preparation with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and parsley), which are always served with polenta. Some other popular Italian baccalà dishes are Baccalà alla Livornese (with tomatoes, garlic, parsley and basil), which is served in Tuscany and Baccalà Fritta (Fried Baccalà), which is common in Rome. In Naples, the classic cod fish fare is Baccalà alla Napoletana (fried fish placed in a simmering tomato sauce, with olives, capers and pine nuts). Baccalà is served with different vegetables—from tomatoes and peppers to eggplants and potatoes. In fact, the possibilities seem endless.
Shopping for Baccalà
Do you know what to look for when buying salted cod? When shopping for baccalà, look for fish with flesh that is white and clean with no yellowing. The cod should have a strong fish odor. Be wary of any chemical smells. Though you can buy it bone-in or boneless, we recommend opting for the boneless salted cod.
Baccalà in the Kitchen
Salted cod needs to be prepped in advance before use. We recommend 2 to 3 days of soaking prior to cooking.
First, remove any excess salt from the surface of the fish. Rinse the filets in cold water for 10 minutes. Prepare a large bowl or container by filling it with fresh cold water. Depending on how salty and intense of a flavor you desire, soak the fish for 2 to 3 days (24 to 48 hours). You can soak it as a whole filet or in large chunks, just be sure it is fully submerged with enough water to cover the fish.
Note that the longer it soaks, the milder the flavor becomes. We like to change the water often, 2 to 3 times per day, but be sure to change it at least once per day.
Click here to Learn How to Prepare Christmas Even Baccalà Step by Step.
Whether you’re already a fan or a newbie to the world of dried salted cod fish, these authentic Italian recipes are sure to showcase the best of baccalà.
Recipe: Baccalà Tomato Sauce with Linguine
A traditional Italian pasta sauce featuring the famous fish in a thin, light tomato sauce just thick enough to coat the pasta.
Recipe: Salted Cod with Tomatoes, Capers and Olives
This traditional Italian recipe is as beautiful as it is healthy and full of flavor. This fish dish features purple-hued Calamata olives, red-ripe tomatoes and a kiss of sweet citrus.
Recipe: Oven-Roasted Baccalà with Potatoes
We consider this a baccalà recipe for beginners. The sweetness of onions roasting with potatoes and cod fish in olive oil for a mild and pleasant dish.
Recipe: Soda Battered Baccalà with Sour Cream and Caper Sauce
We take tradition to new heights with this fried baccalà recipe. This salted cod battered, fried and served up with a tangy caper and sour cream sauce.
Recipe: Mrs. DeLallo’s Baccalà Salad
This tasty marinated salt-dried cod salad is full of color and flavor. Baccalà like you never imagined it before.
This batter fried cod fish is ready to wow. Golden brown and fried to perfection, this is one recipe you’ll need for Feast of the Seven Fishes.