Bacalao for Breakfast?
by The Tapas Lunch Company
From the TLC Blog
It was probably a childhood of eating Cod and Chips that led to my passion for this particular fish. Frankly, I've no idea if the cod I ate then had ever seen the sea, but the cod I eat in Spain most definitely has.
I prefer the word cod to the Spanish equivalent of Bacalao. Not sure why, but the word 'cod' somehow seems to be the right word for such light and fluffy fish. But, when in Spain, use the Spanish word. So here we go with the life and times, the do’s and don’t’s of Bacalao.
The irony is that Bacalao does not come from the seas off Spain. That has not prevented it from becoming the fish eaten most often in the country.
The fish is steeped in the religious history of Spain. Centuries ago the Basques fished cod in the North Atlantic. They brought it back to Spain in salt. So it was that Bacalao began being sold as an inland fish and bought as very stiff boards of fish in the shape of a kite. The same way it is sold most often today.
It is the balance of the salt and the fish which, I am assured, is the reason Bacalao is so popular. The salt tastes better the further south you go in Spain, apparently.
On my travels I have come across shops dedicated to salt cod. The fish is sold as if it were meat, ready cut and labelled with its placed of origin. Those selling it in these bacalao boutiques will even advise you on which cuts best suit certain dishes.
For example, the fatter, white cuts of Norwegian cod are for fillet dishes. Meanwhile, the Scottish caught cod is yellower and has a stronger taste. This, I am advised, should be used with potatoes or rice.
Despite the worldwide shortage of cod, there are, at the last count, at least 100 well established Bacalao inspired dishes and, in Spain at least, cookbooks dealing solely with cod.
Bacalao meals are said to be in either the red or white camp. That’s cooked with or without tomatoes. I’ll be offering up a Bacalao recipe or two on this site shortly.
It is, surprisingly, an any time of the day food. I cannot imagine eating it for breakfast, but I have seen serious fishing folk do just that in the northern coastal resorts.
I prefer a lunchtime tapas serving of Soladitos de Pavia – sticks of salt cod that are battered and deep fried until crisp and golden.
Salt cod requires, on average, 24 hours of soaking. Firstly in cold water that must be changed 2-4 times during that soaking period, or more often in the hottest summer months. For the last two hours of soaking the water should be warm, so drawing out more of the salt.
Down my way in Andalucia some cooks toast the fish first, break it up and then soak it.
After soaking, the fish can be drained, patted dry and prepared. You should allow 4-6 ounces (100-150 grams) of fish per person for a main meal.
I’m afraid such detailed and lengthy preparation is more than my lack of patience could withstand. But I’m happy to allow others to soak my cod overnight!
Especially if they are then cooking me a nice evening meal such as Potaje de Cuaresma, which sees the salt cod combined with chickpeas and chard.
I do know that, after eating the fish in Spain for so many years, cod and chips in the UK will never taste the same again.