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.
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.
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
Rinse the cod under cold running water.
Put it in a container and cover with cold water.
Cover and refrigerate.
Allow the cod to soak for 3 days, changing the water 3 times per day.
After the cod has finished soaking, pat it dry with paper towels.
Remove the skin and bones.
Heat a bit of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. Add the chopped onion and a whole clove of garlic (if using).
Remove the garlic before it browns.
Stir the onions over medium heat until soft, about 5 minutes.
Add a tablespoon of minced parsley and 15 grams of minced anchovies.
Stir for a minute, then turn off the heat.
Dust the fish with flour.
Put half of the onion mixture on the bottom of a small pot.
Arrange the fish on top of the onions.
Arrange the remaining onion mixture on top.
Cover with 25 grams of freshly grated cheese.
Add 250 ml (1 cup) of milk.
Add 250 ml (1 cup) of extra virgin olive oil.
Season with freshly grated black pepper. (Season with salt, too, if using unsalted dried cod.)
Bring to a simmer over low heat. The mixture should not boil.
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.
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.
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.