My memories of bacalao dishes go back to my childhood, when during Holy Week my mom, who was no big fan of the kitchen but was a devout Catholic, prepared codfish with root vegetables, a dish known in Puerto Rico as “serenata de bacalao.” This salad of minced bacalao, potatoes and other vegetables, onions, red peppers and avocado, served with vinaigrette, is one of my fondest food memories of childhood.
I’ve always had a taste for salty food, so I never objected to the task of cleaning and pulling the cod flesh, which often did not even make it to the pot. It goes without saying that half the cod never made it to the table, as I went along “tasting” it as I performed my task. My mom, who over time became aware of the mysterious disappearance of the cod, began to buy more cod to compensate for this phenomenon.
When it came time to sit at the table, that dish was a symphony of flavors. The only problem was that at my house we had to wait until Holy Week for my mom to get inspired and prepare her “serenata” … and that’s even with my handling the worst part of the thing — but I never complained!
Cod is as delicious as it is versatile. It’s wonderful in salads at room temperature, in fritters, croquettes, in all types of stuffings, with green sauce, Biscayan style, or in a simple and delicious tomato sauce like in this recipe.
The secret lies in desalting the cod, changing the water at least 3 times in a 24-hour period. There are chefs who cook this fish in milk, not only to desalt it, but also to soften its singular flavor. Once cooked, proceed to remove any bones and skin that remains. The rest lies with your imagination on how to combine flavors.
Did you know that eating salt cod goes back to the time of the Romans? This fish would preserve better in salt than other fish. That increased its popularity because peoples far from the sea would still be able to consume it. During the discovery and colonization of the Americas, when sea voyages were so long, salt cod was an always-present food.
One of the most important nutritional aspects of this fish is the oil from its liver. I remember my mom would give it to me in tablespoons when I was a girl and it tasted just awful. Nowadays, you can buy it in easy to digest capsule form. The flesh of the fish is high in protein and contains many vitamins and minerals as well.
Returning to my fond memories and cherished moments at the dinner table when everyone wanted seconds … this is one of those recipes that for me evoke feelings of family unity and which I want to share with all of you. Surely you will make it part of your menu year-round!
Cod in Tomato Sauce
1 pound of salted codfish
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice, cubed
½ cup pitted olives
1 teaspoon capers
1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1. Soak cod for 24 hours or more to remove salt, changing water at least twice.
2. Poach cod over medium heat for 15 minutes. Once done, remove bones and excess skin and break up cod into flakes.
3. While cod is poaching, prepare sauce. Heat skillet, add olive oil and garlic, and sauté 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat. Add tomatoes and sauté 5 more minutes. Add remaining ingredients and cook for 5 minutes.
4. Add flaked cod to sauce and cook approximately 10 minutes. Stir gently and adjust seasoning. Garnish with parsley.
To learn more about me or my recipes, visit me at DenisseOller.com and at AARP, where I am a chef and nutrition expert.