Friday, April 14, 2017


As I was putting pieces of bacalao to soak, in preparation for my annual Holy Week visitation to salt cod, I realized that my Good Friday postings have amounted to a cod fish aficionado’s tour of Spain.

So far, the tour has touched in Catalonia, with bacalao a la llauna, baked in a wine sauce and served with tiny mongete beans; Andalusia, with cod fritters served with a drizzle of molasses; chickpeas with spinach and cod dumplings from Castilla-La Mancha; creamy cod brandada from Castilla y León, and the renowned bacalao al pil pil from the Basque Country. (Links to those recipes are at the end of this post.)

Cod, potatoes and cauliflower with tangy red ajada sauce. Garden peas add a springtime touch.

This year I’ve headed to Galicia, the far northwest corner of Spain, to sample a popular cod recipe that is ever-so-easy. Potatoes, cauliflower and cod are simmered in water, then served with a tangy ajada sauce made with  garlic, pimentón and vinegar. It’s a dish also served on Christmas Eve, so for the spring holiday, I’ve added fresh green sugar snap peas from the garden. Serve it with a crisp Albariño white wine from Galicia’s Rias Baixas.

Where to next year? I have yet to visit the bacalao dishes of Valencia, of Extremadura, or of Cantabria. After which, I can begin again, as every region of Spain has a dozen or more recipes for this season.

Crisp Albariño is the wine to serve with the Galician cod dish.

Spoon some sauce over cod and vegetables, serve the rest on the side.

Salt Cod with Cauliflower, Potatoes and Garlic Sauce
Bacalao con Coliflor y Patatas con Ajada

Traditionally, the potatoes, cauliflower and cod are all cooked in one pot of water. I’ve chosen to steam the cod separately, which gives it a nice, fluffy texture. If you prefer to cook the cod in the water, add it at the very end, letting it barely simmer for 5 minutes. Overcooking toughens the cod.

Skinless and nearly boneless pieces are cut from center of the cod. Tail is added to flavor the vegetables.

I used skinless, almost boneless pieces of lomo, center-cut “loin,” each weighing 3 to 4 ounces. They needed about 36 hours soaking time. Thicker cuts of cod need longer soaking. Change the water every 6 to 8 hours. I used a skin-on tail-end of cod to cook with the potatoes and cauliflower, adding flavor to the vegetables. (Picked off the bones, the flesh is great for croquettes or patties.)

The Galicians have dozens of varieties of potatoes. I find that waxy-red boiling potatoes are best for this dish, as they won’t disintegrate when cooked.

Traditionally the ajada sauce is made with ordinary unsmoked pimentón (paprika). You can add some smoked pimentón as well.

Start this recipe 2 or 3 days before serving in order to allow time for the cod to soak.

Serves 4.

8 (3-ounce) pieces center-cut salt cod plus another piece of cod to cook with the potatoes
8 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
Sprig of parsley
4 medium red potatoes (1 pound), peeled and cut in half
1 egg
½ onion
1 pound cauliflower, cut into sections
1 cup sugar snap peas (optional) or parsley
4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons pimentón (paprika)
½ teaspoon smoked pimentón
Pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne (optional)
1 tablespoon vinegar
2 tablespoons hot water
Salt, if necessary

Wash the pieces of salt cod to remove surface salt. Place them in a glass container and cover with cold water. Cover the container and refrigerate. Soak the cod for 36 hours, changing the water 6 times during the soaking period. Drain well and set aside.

Bring 8 cups water to a boil with 1 teaspoon salt and parsley. Add the potatoes, egg and onion. Cook until potatoes are almost tender, 10 minutes. Remove the egg and plunge it in cold water.

Add the cauliflower and extra piece of cod to the potatoes. Bring again to a boil, reduce heat and cook until cauliflower is just tender, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook. Cook the peas, if using, in the same pot for 1 minute.

Drain the potatoes and cauliflower and keep them warm.

Steaming cod over boiling water keeps it tender, prevents it from disintegrating in cooking.

Meanwhile, place a steaming rack in a pan with at least 1 inch of water. Bring the water to a boil. Place the pieces of salt cod on the rack, cover and reduce heat so the water bubbles gently. Steam the fish until it flakes easily, about 8 minutes.

Ajada sauce is olive oil, garlic and three kinds of pimentón.

Meanwhile, slice the garlic crosswise or chop coarsely. Heat the oil in a small saucepan. Add the garlic on medium heat and cook it until it begins to turn golden. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the three kinds of pimentón, the vinegar and hot water. Add salt, if needed (cod may not need extra salt).

Peel and cut the cooked egg in quarters.

Serve the potatoes, cauliflower and pieces of cod with peas, if using, and quartered egg. Spoon some of the garlic-pimentón sauce over the cod and vegetables. Pass remaining sauce at the table. If you have not used peas, garnish the plates with parsley.

More recipes with salt cod:
Cod Fritters with Molasses (Tortillitas de Bacalao con Miel de Caña)
Salt Cod in Garlic Pil Pil Sauce (Bacalao al Pil Pil)
Chickpeas and Spinach with Cod Dumplings (Potaje de Garbanzos y Espinacas con Rellenos)
Garlicky Salt Cod Spread (Brandada de Bacalao 
Olive Pickers’ Cod and Potato Stew (Pote Aceitunero) 
Salt Cod with Manchego and Pine Nuts (Bacalao al Ajo Arriero)


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