Bacalao, or salted codfish, is a highly traditional and prized delicacy that is enjoyed not only in Spain, but also from as far away as the Caribbean to Northern Europe. This dried and salted codfish has become an important part of the Spanish diet. But what do you know about Bacalao? What kind of fish is bacalao? Is salted cod healthy? How long do you soak salted cod? Do you know how long to cook bacalao?
We put all these questions, and more, to Helena Kaperotxipi of Salazones Udana in Lesaka, Navarra in northern Spain. Salazones Udana is an artisan producer of finest bacalao in the world with over 30 years of experience. Their salted cod is one of Basco’s best sellers. So, let’s start right at the beginning…
Bacalao is the Spanish name for salted, dried codfish. It is salted and dried in order to preserve the fish. The history of bacalao is fascinating too. Basque whalers and Spanish conquistadors took nutritious salted Norwegian cod with them on their voyages to the fertile fishing grounds off the coast of Newfoundland because it lasted so well when preserved. Ever since, Spain has had a huge appetite for bacalao.
Bacalao is traditionally made using the Gadus Morhua species of cod.
Helena explains “The cod we use for our bacalao lives in the cold seas and deep waters of the northeast Atlantic around Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands. This has been the traditional fishing ground for Basque fishermen for centuries and the source of these large and powerful fish which can weigh 4 to 7 kg. Interestingly, 1 in 3 cod are fished around from Iceland.”
In the case of Salazones Udana bacalao, traditional fishing techniques, mainly with hooks, are used to catch the cod. The traditional salting method is also employed. We asked Helena how to make Spanish bacalao; “Our qualified experts salt our bacalao for at least 21 days, with sea salt, preferably from Ibiza. It then continues to mature here in Lesaka, Navarra, to achieve the highest quality bacalao which contains high amounts of mineral salts and superb taste” reveals Helena.
Bacalao is incredibly healthy and nutritious. It is preserved naturally by curing using sea salt rather than artificial preservatives. It is a natural source of collagen and magnesium which can help in the prevention of osteoporosis. Rich in phosphorus, it can also aid brain function.
It can be part of a healthy balanced diet due to its low fat and calorie content, and being rich in protein and vitamin B12. For example, fresh cod only has 17 grams of protein, but when cured in salt that increases up to 70 grams of protein in every 100 grams of bacalao. Plus, it is suitable for diabetics and coeliacs as it does not contain sugar or gluten.
To prepare bacalao prior to eating, it needs to be desalted. To do this, take your bacalao salted cod and rinse it thoroughly but carefully under cold water before placing it in a container, skin side up, with double the volume of water. Put it in the refrigerator and change the water every 8 hours or so. Depending on the thickness of the piece of bacalao, it will need 24, 36 or 48 hours of desalting.
Once desalted, you can eat it as it is in salads or you can cook it.
Salted cod can be kept for a year in a dry, dark place below 12º or 15º C but it will become increasingly dry. In a domestic refrigerator at 4ºC you can keep it salty for a year.
Helena tells us “You can keep desalted bacalao in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days like any fresh fish. Alternatively, you can freeze it for whenever you want to cook it.”
Tempted to try bacalao? Basco stock a select range cured by the prestigious artisan producer Salazones Udana. These are of the very highest quality and include Salt Cod Loin which are lovely and thick steaks from the best part of the cod. Available in large and standard sized packs, these extra’ quality bacalao are served at the best restaurants in Spain.
If you want bacalao purely as an ingredient, for example for croquetas, then salt cod trimmings are more cost-effective yet equally delicious. These are also available in a large catering pack or a standard pack for personal use.
If you want to know how to cook bacalao Spanish style, who better to ask than Javier De La Hormaza – Basco’s inspirational founder and professional Basque chef.
Javier’s extensive collection of authentic Spanish salted cod recipes that demonstrate how to cook bacalao. These include buñuelos de bacalao, bacalao con tomate, bacalao al horno, croquetas de bacalao, bacalao a la miel and bacalao a la donostiarra. Basco even offers pre-prepared Salt Cod Croquetas. Here, Javier picks some of his favourite bacalao salt cod recipes.
Bacalao a la Vizcaina is a classic bacalao recipe which features a sauce made exclusively from red onions and choricero pepper puree.
Bacalao Al Pil Pil is an enigmatic salted cod Basque dish with garlic, dried guindilla chilli and olive oil. It’s a magical and truly tasty recipe.
Bacalao en Aceite is a classic pintxo that marinates Bacalao in a garlic and chilli oil to give it a really punchy flavour.
Croquetas de Bacalao is a traditional Spanish salt cod tapas dish which combines bacalao with a beautifully flavoured thick béchamel.
Piquillo Peppers Filled with Salt Cod is a classic Basque recipe of whole piquillo peppers filled with a delicious salt cod béchamel and served with a red pepper sauce.
Bacalao pairs well with many different Spanish wines, but Javier recommends you try enjoying salt cod dishes with a good Rioja.
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