When I was young girl growing up in suburban Australia, my Calabrese grandmother would always try to get me to eat baccalà.
Baccalà is salt cod. My grandmother used to make it herself, coating the fish my grandfather would catch in thick layers of salt and leaving them to cure until they turned almost translucent. She would then hang them from the rafters of her cellar until she was ready to pluck one down and make fritters or soup.
As a child, salt cod was incredibly unappealing. So you can only imagine my surprise when my mother recently informed me that it has become the latest in-vogue ingredient for Australian chefs.
As an adult, I love baccalà. It is not, as I always thought as a child, overbearingly salty. The cure is carefully washed away before you eat the fish, so there’s only a subtle hint of brininess, which accents the fish’s delicate flavour. I guess you could say it’s very similar to cured haddock.
But, like most Italian ingredients are, baccalà is peasant’s food. My grandmother’s grandmother would cure what little fish they had to make it last longer. When I was in Spain many years ago, bacalao, as they call it, was in every deli I visited.
It's humbling to think that baccalà is now being served in the chicest restaurants in Melbourne with a hefty price tag to boot. I used to run the breadth of my grandmother’s house to escape from eating it!
Baccalà is a beloved staple in the coastal areas of the Maremma too. In Orbetello, Porto Ercole and even Grosseto it’s often served with a simple tomato sauce, mopped up with slices of the salt-less local bread.
I know salt cod can seem intimidating to prepare, but this recipe is so easy and fast, you could whip it up one night after work and be the hero of your household. Just remember is to soak the fish 24hrs before you want to cook it.
Soaking softens the fish, returning its flesh to the texture of fresh fish. To do this, immerse your fish in a bowl of water and pop it into the fridge overnight. If you can, change the water a couple of times. Then rinse the fish under running water to wash away any remaining salt.
Baccalà alla Maremma (Maremman-style salt cod)
Cooking time: 15 minutes
- 800 g of salt cod, already soaked and rinsed
- 4 tbsp flour
- oil for frying
- 1 onion
- handful of parsley
- 2 garlic cloves
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 300g can of tomatoes
- salt and pepper
Rinse the cod under running water, dry and cut into bite-size pieces.
Place the flour in a plastic kitchen bag. Season with salt and pepper. Add the cod and shake to coat well.
Heat a medium sized frying pan on a high heat. Add enough oil to cover the pan. Shake any excess flour off the cod and fry until golden on both sides (about 3 minutes). Remove the cod from the pan and place to drain on a paper towel.
Finely chop the onion, parsley and garlic and fry with the olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add the tomatoes and simmer for about ten minutes or until the sauce has thickened.
Place the cod pieces in the pan with the sauce and warm through. Season to taste.
NB: Baccalà is quite salty, so it might not need any more salt.
Serve sprinkled with more chopped parsley and toasted bread.