Fresh Cod alla Vicentina with Polenta

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Bacalà alla Vicentina is a famous dish from the North Italian city of Vicenza, prepared with dried cod. The cod is cooked low and slow and flavored with onions, anchovies, parsley, milk, extra virgin olive oil, and grated cheese (grana padana or parmigiano reggiano). This is one of the exceptions where cheese is actually paired with fish. The sauce has a wonderful flavor and I like the dish, but thought I would like it even better with fresh cod. The recipe is traditionally made with dried salted cod because Vicenza is located too far from the sea to be able to eat fresh fish before refrigeration was invented. But now that fresh fish is available everywhere, why not try the same dish with fresh cod? I really liked the result; the dish has a more ‘clean’ and elegant taste when made with fresh fish, and the fish is more tender as well. The fish still pairs wonderfully with the traditional companion of polenta.

The traditional recipe calls for a lot of milk and a lot of olive oil. For this preparation, I reduced those amounts so that there was still enough to cover the fish to cook it, but less waste of good extra virgin olive oil. This is how I will make this from now on. Here’s what I did…

Ingredients

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For 4 servings

600 grams (1.3 lbs) fresh cod fillet without skin, cut into 8 pieces

2 onions, chopped

4 Tbsp (15 grams) minced fresh flat leaf parsley

30 grams (1 oz) anchovy fillets, minced

120 ml (1/2 cup) extra virgin olive oil

250 ml (1 cup) milk

50 grams (1.8 oz) freshly grated grana padana or parmigiano reggiano

flour for dusting

salt and freshly ground black pepper

polenta, for serving

Instructions

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In a tablespoon of the olive oil, cook the onions over low heat…

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…stirring regularly, until soft, about 10 minutes.

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Add 15 grams of minced parsley and 30 grams of minced anchovies.

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Stir for a minute, then turn off the heat.

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Find a pot into which the pieces of cod fit snugly in a single layer.

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Season the pieces of cod with salt and freshly ground black pepper on all sides.

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Dust them with flour.

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Spread out half the onion mixture on the bottom of the pot.

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Arrange the pieces of cod on top of the onions in a single layer.

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Cover with the remaining onion mixture.

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Cover the onions with 50 grams of freshly grated parmigiano or grana.

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Add 250 ml of milk.

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Add enough extra virgin olive oil…

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…to barely cover the fish.

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Cook over low heat for 4 to 5 hours. The mixture should never boil, there should only be an occasional bubble rising to the surface.

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Prepare the polenta according to package instructions. Heat up the indicated amount of water, olive oil, and salt. Sprinkle the cornmeal into the water while it is not boiling yet, whisking all the while to prevent lumps. The Italians say the polenta should “rain” into the pot.

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When you have added all of the cornmeal, bring to a boil, stirring.

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When it boils, lower the heat and keep stirring…

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…until the polenta is cooked and so thick it detaches from the pot.

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For best results, allow the fish to cool off, refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to develop, then gently reheat to serve.

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Serve the fish with the polenta, and instruct your guests to combine both in each spoonful.

Wine pairing

A logical choice is a dry white from Veneto, like a Soave.

Flashback

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Babi Panggang is Malaysian/Indonesian for “roasted pork”. This Dutch version with a sweet and sour sauce is not authentic but it sure is delicious.

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15 thoughts on “Fresh Cod alla Vicentina with Polenta

  1. I’m so very far behind but had to check out this recipe. It sounds wonderful, Stefan. Serving it atop polenta is a Bartolini’s dream! I will make this dish and let you know how it goes. The only problem I foresee is waiting overnight to let the flavors fully develop. I had better plan something special for dinner that night or the baccalà will never make it! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Was wondering what temperature you would recommend simmering the fish at if one was using an Instant Pot or Slow Cooker. Hopefully this will also be useful for anyone who wants to sous vide the recipe as well. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I haven’t tried this yet so it is an educated guess. As the long cooking time is intended to develop the flavors rather than tenderize the fish, I’d say 55C/131F. This temperature is high enough from a food safety perspective. I suppose around 70C/160F will be similar to the traditional method, but then there wouldn’t be much benefit of using an instant pot. Let us know how this turns out!

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      1. Thanks for the info! Just finished eating it w/ polenta. This recipe adapts itself well to the Instant Pot Ultra specifically because the temperature and time can be set manually. Note that I used previously frozen Alaskan Pacific Cod and curly parsley (increased the amount due to the milder flavor and made sure to chop finely for texture). I started off by sauteeing the onions on the Low Saute function before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. I found that cooking at 140F didn’t result in even heat distribution due to air flow on top-this was evident with a simple poke into the mixture. I would imagine that this would not be an issue cooking sous vide due to the circulator. The temperature gradient wasn’t and issue after bumping the temperature up to 150F and went for 4.5hrs. Gently flaking the fish with the back of a spoon definitely increased the flavor penetration, though this might be due to the Pacific Cod’s firmness. Delicious and only had 1 pot to wash!

        In the future I’d try it with Atlantic Cod which I suspect would yield a better texture.

        Liked by 1 person

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