Baccalà alla Vicentina – Salt cod stew with creamy polenta
Baccalà alla Vicentina is a wonderful cod stew recipe from the town of Vicenza in North East Italy.
Baccalà means salt cod, although in Vicenza this word actually refers to dried stockfish.
Whether you’re using salt cod or dried cod, this recipe calls for a long, slow cooking of the fish, letting it simmering away in a mouth-watering combination of onions, milk, grated cheese and plentiful olive oil.
In terms of what fish to use and where to find it, it all depends on where you are and what’s available to you.
In London, I found more easily salt cod from Spanish delis. There’s two at the end of Portobello road, one called R Garcia and Sons and another one called La Plaza Deli. A packet of around 600-700 g salt cod cost me around £13 at the latter.
In Italy, cod stew recipes often call for Norwegian stockfish from Lofoten islands, apparently the highest quality available on the market. You might have to order it in advance from your local fishmonger or try ordering online.
In both cases, stockfish and salt cod require to be soaked in water for several days before they’re ready to be cooked.
In my case, I soaked the salt cod, cut in 3-4 large chunks, for 4 days in a bowl of water that I kept in the fridge, changing the water every 6-8 hours.
Equally, dried fish will need to be soaked to bring it back to a suitable level of moistness, although in this case the saltiness won’t be a problem as much as it is for salt cod.
A traditional way to serve salt cod stew is with creamy polenta, which is corn four cooked for 40-45 minutes in water and salted to taste.
Salt cod stew with creamy polenta
4-5 hours cooking + 3-4 days soaking
600-700 g salt cod (already de-salted and re-hydrated)
250 g shallots (or white onions), sliced
3 fillets of sardines in in olive oil
A spoonful of all-purpose white flour
100-120 ml milk
100-120 ml extra virgin olive oil
4 spoonfuls grated Parmesan cheese
Salt/black pepper to taste
- In a pan, heat some extra virgin olive oil and add the anchovies and sliced onions. Lower the heat and cook slowly for about one hour, until the onions are soft and golden brown.
- Cut the cod (which you had previously soaked for 3-4 days in water) in 3-4 chunks and dust with flour. Place in the pan with the onions, and delicately turn it a couple of times so that it is well soaked in the onion mix. Add some black pepper, to taste.
- Add the grated cheese on top and start pouring the milk and olive oil, alternating between the two until the fillets are completely covered. You might not need all the liquid, or you might want to add a bit at the end. Use your judgment to decide how much to use.
- Cover with a lid, leaving it however slightly open to let the steam out and cook on a very low heat for 4-5 hours, turning occasionally the fillets, taking care not to break them.
- At the end of the cooking time remove from the heat and serve piping hot on a bed of creamy polenta (recipe here), topped with some parmesan cheese.
– I have not added any salt to the recipe as I’ve used salt cod. However, if you’re using dried stockfish you can add some salt to taste.