Basque Peasant Bacalao Recipe
Chilies, potatoes, sweet peppers and tomatoes over toast with tossed greens. Plan this hearty meal well ahead of time for best results.
1 lb. salt cod*
12 oz. bacon
2 tbsp olive oil
5 medium potatoes, red or yellow flesh, cut into thick slices
1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 small green bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin rounds
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin rounds
1 chili, such as serrano or jalapeño chile, with its seeds, sliced
1 sweet onion, such as vidalia, cut into thin rounds
4 slices of a crusty, flavourful bread, plus more for the table
4-6 tbsp salted butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh parsley
8 cups mixed greens, including any of the following in any combination: arugula, mâche, baby kale, mizuna, baby beet greens, escarole, radicchio, tatsoi, spinach, frisée, and baby swiss chard, rinsed and dried
2 tbsp very good extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Flaky or coarse salt
* There’s no substitute for salt cod, but there are various grades. Most important, look for pure white, thick pieces. Norway, Iceland and Spain still produce a great deal of salt cod; many swear by the quality of the Norwegian product. If you buy your salt cod from a reputable fish store, you’ll likely end up with the good stuff. The best of the best is graded “superior extra”. Look for superior grade or imperial. Salt cod is sometimes called morue, bacalao or saltfish.
Step 1: Soak the salt cod in the refrigerator for 2-3 days, changing the water once a day. Rinse one final time before cooking. Or, if you haven’t planned ahead, soak the fish for 5 hours, rinse and then break the fillets up into pieces. Soak again until you’re ready to use it, changing the water frequently.
Step 2: In a large frying pan over medium-low heat, cook the bacon for 10 minutes or until it has rendered some of its fat but is still soft and undercooked. Transfer the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Pour off most of the fat and set aside the still slightly greasy pan.
Step 3: Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Step 4: Pour the oil into a Dutch oven or large, deep, ovenproof frying pan. Add the potatoes, forming one overlapping layer. Put the fish fillets on top of the potatoes in a single layer. Layer the tomatoes, and then the sweet peppers and chili, on top of the fish. Finally, lay the bacon on top of it all, covering the vegetables as much as possible. Put the pot in the oven to bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes, or until the fish is fragrant and the potatoes are soft.
Step 5: While the fish cooks, put the onion in the pan you cooked the bacon in with the leftover grease. Cook over low heat for 30 minutes or until the onion is soft and golden in colour.
Step 6: Toast the bread until crisp and spread generously with butter. Set the pieces of toast, cut in half if necessary, in shallow soup bowls. When the fish is done, cover the bacon with the onion and sprinkle the herbs over the top. Use a ladle or large spoon to portion the fish, vegetables, bacon, onions, and broth over the bread. You can now eat.
Step 1: Put the clean, dry greens in a salad bowl.
Step 2: Just before you’ll be eating them, drizzle on the olive oil and toss until the oil coats the leaves evenly.
Step 3: Squeeze on the lemon juice, add a pinch of salt, and toss just a few times before serving.
Reprinted with permission from Cree LeFavour’s Fish (2013 Raincoast Books).