Dominican Bacalao (Salted Cod Stew)
I learned this delicious recipe back in the early 1970’s from my wonderful sister Ann. Back then, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in the city of Barahona, in the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean island whose main export these days seems to be Major League baseball players. Anyway, in those days this was a very cheap fish which Norway and Canada exported to poor countries like the Dominican Republic, where refrigeration and protein were hard to come by. Unfortunately, nowadays, the great North Atlantic codfish has been overfished, and salt cod sells for about $15 a pound. That’s well out of the price range of someone living in a palm board shack in Barahona, of course. But it is available to people like me who frequent Whole Foods. You can find it in a wooden box, or as a whole salted fillet, near the seafood counter.
This recipe is easy to make. The only drawback is that you have to boil the cod for 30 minutes to soften the fish and remove enough of the salt to make it palatable — and that boiling process is pretty smelly. Make sure you turn on the hood above your stove and if the weather allows, open the windows and kitchen door.
- 1 pound dried salted codfish
- 1 onion, chopped (you can use only half an onion if you don’t like them)
- 1 green (and/or sweet red or yellow) pepper, chopped
- 1 16 oz. can of tomatoes (the last time I made this I only had a 32 oz. can and it worked fine)
- About a quarter teaspoon dried oregano
- Pepper to taste
- 1 teaspoon of vinegar (red wine, cider, balsamic, just not white vinegar)
- 1 or 2 eggs (I have never used two eggs. I don’t like an eggy taste, but this is a flexible recipe)
Wash the cod under running cold water and pull out any obvious bones. Some cod will have more bones than other cod, and it’s worth looking for, and extracting, the bones during this washing process. Some little bits of fish may come off while you are washing. You want to retain those little pieces to boil.
After a good washing (about 5 minutes) put the fish in a large sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid, cover with cold water, put the lid on and turn the fire on medium high and wait for the water to boil. This will boil over easily and make a smelly mess of your stove, so don’t walk away! Once the top of the pan is hot and you hear boiling inside, turn the heat down to low and set a timer for 15 minutes.
When the timer rings, carefully drain off the water from the fish (Be careful! There will be steam coming from the pan.) and then cover the fish again in cold water and repeat the process of bringing the water to a boil and turning the heat down. Set the timer again for 15 minutes.
If you don’t change the water in this way, the end product will be almost too salty to eat. Trust me. I’ve tried it.
After a total of 30 minutes of boiling, the fish should come apart in bite-sized chunks. Drain the fish well in a colander and set aside.
In a large sauce pan, heat a tablespoon (or so) of olive oil and saute the onion until it’s translucent (don’t let it burn!). Add the cooked codfish, then the canned tomatoes and stir. Add the chopped green pepper, the oregano, then the vinegar. Break an egg or two over the mixture and stir in, letting it cook down. The egg acts as a thickener, which you don’t even notice.
Serve over rice. Be sure not to add salt to the rice during preparation. This is salty enough!