Saturday, March 24, 2018

GET YOUR BACALAO SOAKING NOW!

The first processions of Holy Week are already in the streets. The faithful are fretfully checking the weather forecasts for the coming week, hoping and praying that their favorite pasos, images of Christ crucified and the grieving Virgin Mary, will not be prevented by rain from leaving their sanctuaries.


So, people, it’s time to put your bacalao to soak if you want to serve it for Viernes Santo, Good Friday (this year on March 30).

Bacalao—dry salt cod—is the traditional food during Lent, the weeks preceding Easter, and, especially for Holy Week when the religiously observant abstain from eating meat. Of course, all fish and shellfish as well as legumes and dairy foods make up Lenten meals. But in olden days, before refrigeration made fresh fish available inland from ports, long-keeping salt cod was about the only fish available. For that reason, it continues to be the favored food for the season.

Chunks of bacalao cook with saffron rice. White beans, peas and olives make a "cobblestone" effect.

This year I’m preparing a bacalao dish with rice from the eastern regions of Valencia and Murcia. It’s called arroz empedrado, or “cobblestone rice,” because fat white beans look like cobblestones on the surface of the rice. (See the links at the end of this post for more bacalao recipes from other regions of Spain.)

Once fairly inexpensive, bacalao (from Scandanavia—there is no cod in Spanish waters) is pricey. I paid €9.00 for a piece of about 500 grams ($11.00 for one pound). And that was not bone-free fish!

If you buy boneless lomo, the center “loin” of cod, you will need less than if you are cutting a piece from a whole or split that has fins and spines.

Bacalao needs to be soaked in several changes of water to rehydrate the flesh and remove the salt, usually 36 to 48 hours. Thicker pieces may need longer soaking; thin pieces and scraps need less. (It’s ok to taste uncooked cod to decide if it’s sufficiently de-salted.) If cod is de-salted sufficiently before you are ready to cook it, drain it, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.

The rice is paved with"cobblestones" of white beans, green peas and purple cuquillo olives.

Like paella, rice with cod and vegetables is cooked "dry," not soupy.

Rice with salt cod is typical for Lenten meals, but is a delicious dish any time of the year.

After soaking and gentle cooking, dry salt cod is moist and flaky.

Rice with Salt Cod and “Cobblestones” (Beans)
Arroz Empedrado con Bacalao

Two or more days before cooking the rice and cod:
Wash the cod under running water. Place it in a glass bowl and cover with fresh water. Cover and soak the cod, refrigerated, for 36 to 48 hours, changing the water every eight hours. Each time you change the water, rinse the cod and squeeze it gently before adding fresh water. 

This piece of cod has been soaked 48 hours.

Use a boning knife to cut away any bones or dark membrane—but don’t remove the skin. The skin will keep the pieces of cod from disintegrating while cooking and gelatin in the skin gives consistency to the finished dish.

You can use the bones and trimmings to make a very simple stock in which to cook the rice. Cover them with 6 cups of water. Add parsley, sliced onion, a strip of lemon peel and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes. Strain the stock and reserve 4 cups of it for the rice.

Use cooked or canned white beans, well drained. This recipe has chard, but other vegetables such as cauliflower, artichokes or green beans can be used instead. I’ve added green peas and purple-black Valencia cuquillo olives for some cobblestone color!

This rice dish is cooked “dry,” like paella. If you prefer, use more stock or water and make it meloso, somewhat the consistency of risotto. However, don’t stir the rice after the bacalao and beans have been added. 

Fresh chard leaves, de-salted cod, tomatoes, onions, cooked white beans, cuquillo olives, green peas, medium-round-grained rice and saffron are the ingredients for this rice dish that is cooked like paella.

Serves 4-6.

12-16 ounces dry salt cod, soaked for 48 hours in several changes of water
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup (packed) chopped chard, leaves only
1 tomato, grated
2 cups medium round grain rice
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika, not smoked)
4 cups fish stock or water
¼ teaspoon saffron threads, crushed
¼ cup peas, fresh or frozen
2 cups cooked or canned white beans, drained
Salt to taste
Cuquillo olives to garnish


Cut the cod into 6 to 8 chunks. Pat them dry. Heat the oil in a paella pan, large skillet or flat-bottomed wok. Place the pieces of cod skin side down in the oil and fry them about 1 minute, without turning. Remove and set aside.

Add the onion, garlic and red bell pepper to the pan. Sauté on medium heat for 3 minutes. Don’t allow the onions to brown. Add the chard and the tomatoes. Sauté for 3 minutes more. Stir in the rice. Add the pimentón. Add the fish stock or water. Add the saffron. Bring the liquid to a boil. Cook the rice on medium-high heat for 5 minutes.

Add the pieces of cod to the pan, skin side up. Add the peas and beans. Taste the liquid and add salt if necessary. Lower the heat and cook the rice without stirring until it is almost tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 14 minutes. Rotate the pan over the heat and shake it occasionally to keep the rice from sticking on the bottom. (Add a little additional liquid if necessary.)

Scatter olives on top of the rice. Remove from heat, cover with a dampened cloth and allow the rice to set in the pan 5 minutes before serving.





More recipes with bacalao:

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