Baccalà alla Messinese

Baccalà and stocco (also called stoccafisso – stickfish) are two types of dried preserved cod, baccalà being salted and stocco just dried. While they are used in traditional Italian and Spanish dishes, baccalà in Italian and bacalao in Spanish, the fish itself comes from northern countries such as Norway where it is processed and exported. I’ve seen salt cod here in the States at fish markets and at Whole Foods (in the freezer section – go figure, it’s already preserved).

The cooked fish has a slightly salty flavor and a firmer chewier texture that, although different, is very appealing. Before cooking with it, first soak it for at least 36 hours in the refrigerator, changing the water 2-3 times a day. The rest of preparation is relatively easy and makes a healthy, satisfying fish stew. Great on a cold night with good crusty bread.

Baccalà alla messinese
Salt cod Messina style
Based on the recipe in I Sapori della Cucina Siciliana

1½ lb salt cod – soaked in water for at least 36 hours (see above)
1 onion – chopped
Olive oil for sautéing
2 cloves garlic – minced
½ lb tomatoes – peeled, seeded and chopped (fresh or canned)
2 T tomato paste – diluted in ½ cup hot water
¼ cup black olives – pitted, good quality
1 T capers
1½ lb red potatoes – 1 inch cube
1 medium-hot red pepper – chopped – optional
Salt to taste

In a Dutch oven heat a small amount of olive oil and sauté the onion over medium heat until soft and beginning to color. Add the garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes more. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste diluted in water, olives and capers. Cover and simmer for about 10 minutes over low heat. Meanwhile, cut the baccalà into 1 ½ inch chunks and add to the vegetables along with a cup of water. Let simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Add the potatoes and more water if necessary. Continue to simmer until the potatoes reach the desired tenderness, about 20 minutes. Correct the seasoning and add the red pepper if using. Serve hot.

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