A true Iberian classic recipe, bacalao with tomato salsa has that delightful combination of firm white salted cod and spicy salsa.
In parts of Spain, especially in the North, this dish is so popular that it is served at Christmas.
Mild or Spicy?
What makes this dish so special is that every Spanish kitchen has its own salsa recipe so no two are the same. You can go from a mild sauce rather like a passata, to a chunky salsa with peppers and chilli.
I like a medium to hot salsa, but not so hot that it overwhelms the fish. Bacalao with tomato should showcase the fish with the salsa as the support act.
Gran Canarian Fish
We have returned from one of our regular visits to see friends in Gran Canaria and during the trip, I decided that I was going to be a temporary pescatarian.
This wasn’t a moral decision, I am definitely a carnivore and like a properly cooked rib-eye steak as much as the next meat eater. It’s just that the fish served in the island restaurants is just so good.
In my opinion, the best fish dishes in Gran Canaria are made using either freshly caught sole or salted and dried Atlantic cod.
The sole meuniere at Restaurante Churrasco in Puerto Rico was truly wonderful, so good in fact I had it twice. Indulgent I know, but it was a tough choice between the meuniere or the Waleska. Don’t worry, I had the Waleska the next day.
Bacalao (Salt Cod)
Salt cod or bacalao in Spanish (bacalhau in Portuguese) is widely used in cooking all over the Iberian peninsula. Often cited as Portugal’s national dish it can be cooked in so many different ways.
Bacalao has a fascinating history going back to medieval times and I found an excellent article on historytoday.com telling us all about the catching, curing and exploitation of this important food source.
The Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua) – from which virtually all salt cod is made – is a remarkable beast. Measuring up to 1.2m long and weighing as much as 40kg, it roams the icy waters of the North Atlantic, from Cape Hatteras to Greenland and from Iceland to the Barents Sea, with an almost aristocratic assurance. Like the haddock, it is perfect for human consumption. Its white flesh is dense, flaky and low in fat; its bones are easy to separate; and, while it is most often caught using nets, it can be landed with nothing more than a baited line.
Preparation for Cooking
After being rehydrated by soaking in changes of water for between 24 to 72 hours, salt cod is then cooked in a variety of ways, including grilling, frying, or braising.
You can find a fuller guide to desalting and rehydrating bacalao in this article.
Other Recipes You Maybe Interested in …..
Spanish bacalao with tomato salsa is very healthy and you can make the salsa as mild or hot as you like. I like to serve mine either with rice or saute potatoes.
You can use fresh cod steaks instead of salt cod if you don’t want to do the rehydration, but I wouldn’t recommend using frozen fish. It tends to break up when cooked and can go soggy and there is something about the saltiness of bacalao which goes so well with the salsa.
Spanish Bacalhau with Tomato Salsa
- 1 kg dried salt cod, preferably boneless soaked in water for at least 24 hours
- 180 ml Spanish olive oil
- 1 cup plain flour for coating the fish
- 1 large onion yellow or white
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 800 g chopped tomatoes
- 1 bay leaf
- 340 g roasted red peppers
- Remove the fish from the water. Pat it dry with paper towels. Cut into 3-inch squares and set aside.
- Pour about 60ml of olive oil into a large frying pan over medium heat. Put flour on a plate and dredge cod in flour. When the frying pan is hot, place the fish in the pan and brown fish lightly on both sides, about 2 to 3 minutes a side. Remove and set aside.
- Add the remaining 120ml of olive oil to the same frying pan. Add the chopped onion and garlic and sauté until the onion is translucent about 5 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaf. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
- Add the codfish back into the frying pan and reduce heat. Add the sliced roasted red peppers and let simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Serve with fried potatoes.