Bacalà alla Vicentina (Dried Cod Braised in Milk and Olive Oil)

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Many foods we still enjoy today were invented to be able to conserve food before we had refrigerators and freezers. A famous example is dried, or salted and dried, fish. In Italy this is known as baccalà for dried cod, and stoccafisso for salted and dried cod. To make things complicated, salted and dried cod is known as bacalà in the North. And so the most famous dish of the city of Vicenza is called Bacalà alla Vicentina, but should in fact be prepared with stoccafisso.

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As a general rule, only towns on the coast (or by a lake) in Italy have traditional fish dishes, as most traditional dishes go back to before the time of refrigerators and freezers. Vicenza is not at the coast, which is why its signature dish uses dried cod instead of fresh. As with all traditional dishes, there are many versions. I’ve prepared the classic version as described on the site of the Confraternita del Bacalà alla Vicentina. After soaking the dried fish for 3 days, it should be cooked very slowly for 4.5 hours with onions, anchovies, parsley, and grated grana or parmigiano in a mixture of milk and olive oil.

Traditionally it is served with polenta. I left that out, but will include it next time because it is better than eating it by itself. I also ended up using salted dried cod instead of just dried cod, as that is what I could find around here. It means that I didn’t have to add any salt to season. Every piece of dried cod is different, so keep in mind there are no precise instructions on how long you need to soak it or how long you need to simmer it to get it tender.

The distinct flavor of salted cod is an acquired taste. I really liked the flavor of the ‘sauce’ of this dish, so I may try this with fresh cod next time around.

Ingredients

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For 4 servings

800 grams (1.8 lb) dried cod with skin and bones, resulting in about 450 grams (1 lb) cleaned cod after soaking (see below)

140 grams (5 oz) onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, optional

15 grams (1/2 oz) anchovy fillets, minced

2 Tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley

250 ml (1 cup) extra virgin olive oil

250 ml (1 cup) milk

25 grams (1 oz) freshly grated grana padana or parmigiano reggiano

flour for dusting

salt and freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

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Rinse the cod under cold running water.

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Put it in a container and cover with cold water.

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Cover and refrigerate.

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Allow the cod to soak for 3 days, changing the water 3 times per day.

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After the cod has finished soaking, pat it dry with paper towels.

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Remove the skin and bones.

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Heat a bit of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the chopped onion and a whole clove of garlic (if using).

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Remove the garlic before it browns.

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Stir the onions over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes.

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Add a tablespoon of minced parsley and 15 grams of minced anchovies.

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Stir for a minute, then turn off the heat.

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Dust the fish with flour.

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Put half of the onion mixture on the bottom of a small pot.

 

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Arrange the fish on top of the onions.

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Arrange the remaining onion mixture on top.

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Cover with 25 grams of freshly grated cheese.

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Add 250 ml (1 cup) of milk.

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Add 250 ml (1 cup) of extra virgin olive oil.

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Season with freshly grated black pepper. (Season with salt, too, if using unsalted dried cod.)

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Bring to a simmer over low heat. The mixture should not boil.

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Simmer, uncovered, for about 4.5 hours. You should see some small bubbles rising to the surface now and then. Italians call this pipare.

Do not stir! Only rotate the pot now and then so the fish won’t get stuck to the bottom of the pot.

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Serve and enjoy. Or allow to cool to room temperature and then refrigerate, and very gently reheat the next day to serve. This will allow the flavors to develop even more.

Flashback

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Two years ago I started making my own Thai curry paste from scratch, and I’ve never gone back as it adds so much complexity to the flavor rather than just being spicy hot. My first batch was Thai green curry.

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22 thoughts on “Bacalà alla Vicentina (Dried Cod Braised in Milk and Olive Oil)

      • Yes, I had some in the fridge waiting for inspiration. This is a very unusual and tasty dish. Rich too with all the olive oil. I found the deskinning and deboning a bit difficult although I am generally quite good with fresh fish. I will get a knife like yours. The other problem is that I am easily distracted and burned it slightly. It made me wonder if it could be cooked sous vide but of course the sauce would not reduce then. I suppose the sauce could be drained off the fish and then reduced. But what am I doing mucking about with a classic recipe? Probably my pan is not sufficiently non-stick. A poor workman blaming his tools again. I still have another piece of stoccafisso….

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Thank you for admitting that dried cod may not quite be to everyone’s taste! But this recipe with the milk/olive oil sounds more than interesting . . . . I also put the fish usage more on the side of the Iberian Peninsula 🙂 ! The nutritionist me kind’of [softly] queries about the food values in fish soaked in water for three days but, purely for investigative purposes . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Italians did take it over from the Portuguese, who in turn were introduced to dried fish by the Vikings.
      I don’t believe the majority of the nutritional value ends up in the soaking water, as many generations of Scandinavians have survived on a diet of lots of this stuff.

      A funny thing is that the first syllable of the word somehow got reversed in Dutch. Bacala = Bacalhau (Portuguese) = Bakkeljauw = Kabeljauw.

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      • Love that bit of new knowledge!!! Don’t get mad! Estonians must be awfully stubbornly individualistic ’cause we call it ‘soolatursk’ . . . and the fish ‘bit’ is ‘tursk’ 🙂 ! Smile about the Scandinavian ways: oh dear . . . my NE part of the world would not know what ‘healthy eating’ is . . . Ok, leave it there . . .

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I haven’t seen dried Cod for years! Being from Massachusetts, I’m very familiar with Cod, and dried Cod was very popular in Massachusetts years ago. I remember when i was young once finding a recipe for Cod Timbales which used dried Cod. I made them and they were very good ! (Actually, I just ‘googled’ to see if there were still recipes out there for Cod Timbales, and – to my surprise – there are!) This recipe looks delicious, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just made baccalà in umido for Christmas Eve, Stefan. I love it. I’ve never seen it prepared like you have here but I bet it’s delicious! I think you’re right. That sauce would be fantastic over polenta. I had no idea that cod’s names varied by location. For us, baccalà was salted & dried while stoccafisso was merely dried. I’ve not seen the latter in many years but baccalà is becoming more readily available. Fine with me. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Fresh Cod alla Vicentina with Polenta | Stefan's Gourmet Blog

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