Saturday, April 13, 2019


Te conozco, bacalao, aunque vengas disfrazao,” is an old Spanish saying, meaning “I know you, codfish, even if you come in disguise.” It’s roughly the same as “pull the wool over your eyes,” deceive someone to prevent them from discovering something. Considering the thousand-and-one ways of preparing salt cod during the Lenten period, it’s also a sly way of saying, “you can’t fool me, no matter how you doll it up!”

But, here’s a recipe for salt cod that might fool anyone! It’s a garlicky, creamy dip or schmear that might remind you of hummus or Greek skordalia or taromosalata. This one, from the Axarquía region east of Málaga, is somewhat like Catalan brandada and atascaburras or ajoarriero from La Mancha. But, it has, besides salt cod and garlic, a big dose of pimentón (paprika) that gives the mixture a ruddy hue. 

Ajobacalao is a dip or spread made with salt cod blended into a creamy mixture of garlic, bread and olive oil. Pimentón (paprika) gives it a reddish color.

Spread the ajobacalao on crusty bread for a satisfying snack.

A tasty spread for canapés. In Málaga, local green olives are typical, but the black ones make nice contrast.

Use breadsticks as dippers.

The resulting thick spread can be slathered on bread or toasts for a satisfying snack, spread on crisp crackers as a canapé or dipped with breadsticks. Serve it as a luncheon entrée with artichokes, quartered hard-boiled egg and lettuce. 

Salt cod is to fresh fish as cured ham is to fresh pork. The process of salting and curing changes both flavor and texture. Salt cod has to be soaked in several changes of water before being incorporated in any recipe. It needs very little cooking on gentle heat. 

In Spain, it’s easy to find bacalao in many different cuts. I used a packet of bacalao desmigado, scraps of cod with no skin or bones. The small pieces needed only 12 hours soaking. If you have a thick, loin cut of bacalao, it may need as long as 48 hours to soften and lose excess salt. 

And, if you’re really, truly not into bacalao, disguised or otherwise, try making this spread with canned, water-pack tuna, well-drained. You can tell folks it´s bacalao---

Salt Cod-Garlic Spread

In bygone times, this traditional dish was made in a lebrillo, a large clay bowl, or a wooden mortar, the ingredients mashed together with a pestle. Nowadays, a food processor makes quick work of it. It's important to mix very well to emulsify the oil and bread.

Use extra virgin olive oil. In the Málaga area where this is a popular dish during Lent (Cuaresma) the local oil is made from the Verdial variety of olive. The pimentón is normal, sweet paprika, not smoked. Use additional hot pimentón or cayenne to taste.

Bacalao desmigado.
6-8 ounces dry salt cod
1-2 cloves garlic
8 ounces day-old bread (4-5 slices)
2 teaspoons pimentón (paprika)
Pinch of hot pimentón or cayenne
Cod cooking liquid
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt, if necessary
Bread, toast, breadsticks or crackers to serve

Wash the pieces of cod and place them in a bowl. Cover with cold water. Refrigerate, covered, 12 hours, changing the water twice. 

Drain and rinse the pieces of cod. Place them in a pan and cover with water. Bring the water to a simmer (bubbling gently) and cook 1 minute. Drain, saving the cod cooking liquid. When the cod is cool, flake it with the fingers, discarding any skin or bones. Reserve cod and liquid.

Ingredients for ajobacalao--day-old bread, extra virgin olive oil, pimentón, garlic, cod that has been de-salted, cooked and flaked and lemon juice.

Finely chop the garlic in a food processor.

Remove crusts from the bread. Break it up and add to the processor with the garlic. Add the two kinds of pimentón. Grind the bread into fine crumbs. Add ½ cup of the reserved cod cooking liquid and process until it is absorbed by the bread. With the processor running, slowly add the oil. Process until the oil is completely absorbed and mixture is very smooth. Add the lemon juice and 2 or 3 tablespoons more of the reserved liquid to make a smooth, thick cream. 

Add the flaked cod and process a few seconds more to combine well. The cod does not have to be completely pureed. Taste and add salt if necessary.  

Cover and refrigerate the cod until serving time or up to 3 days. Serve with bread, toasts, breadsticks or crackers.

Feliz Semana Santa.

Recipes for similar salt cod spreads:

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