Baccalà (in Italian) simply means salt cured cod. Cod preserved in this manner can last for years and years, and Campania, a region which includes the city of Naples, boasts the highest consumption of baccalà in all of Italy, so naturally, a Napoletana recipe must be good!
Baccalà is a favorite for the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve and legend has it that there are 365 different ways to eat baccalà in Naples. Baccalà, when prepared correctly is not fishy at all, it’s meaty and firm. It is also the perfect dish for Good Friday especially for those who abstain from meat.
With the drastic decline in the world stock of cod, baccalà is a true specialty. It is an ancient tradition that has traversed to many cultures through centuries of trade. For this reason it is known by many names:
bacalhau (Portuguese), bacalao (Spanish), bakaiļao (Basque), bacallà (Catalan), μπακαλιάρος, bakaliáros (Greek), Kabeljau (German), baccalà (Italian), bakalar (Croatian), bakkeljauw (Dutch), “makayabu” (Central and East Africa), klippfisk (Scandinavian), stokvis/klipvis (Dutch), saltfiskur (Icelandic), morue (French), saltfish (Caribbean), bakaljaw (Maltese), “labardan” (Russian).
With so many names you can imagine the countless number of dishes one can make from dried, salt cod.
This recipe for Baccalà alla Napoletana, is just as famous as pizza in the South of Italy. The baccalà is floured, lightly fried and then braised in a simmering fresh tomato sauce with olives, capers and parsley. To make the BEST sauce you have to find the freshest pomodorini (cherry tomatoes) that you can. I can get these Sicilian beauties from my favorite veggie vendor at the Downsview Farmers Market on Saturdays.
The key to good baccalà is to soak the dried salt cod for at least 2 days, changing the water each day before you cook it. This ensures that all of the salt has leached out of the cod. I soak mine for 4 days, changing the water each day and I also make sure to pick out the plumpest boneless filet that I can find.
Ready to try this special dish?
Baccalà alla Napoletana: Neapolitan-Style Braised Salt Cod
Remember to plan ahead as the baccalà needs to soak for 2-4 days (water changed each day).
For the Baccalà:
2 pounds baccalà (dried salt cod)
Flour for dredging
Olive oil for sautéing
a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the Sauce:
1 pound fresh cherry tomatoes or (1 -28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes), chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 small palmful capers
1 small handful black olives
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400F
Drain the baccalà and pat dry with paper towels. Cut it into equal sized serving portions and set aside.
For the Tomato Sauce: Set a large ovenproof saucepan over medium-heat and add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic and parsley and saute just until fragrant. Add the roughly chopped tomatoes (or can if using) bring to a boil, and add 1/2 – 1 cup of water and simmer gently. After 15-20 minutes of simmering, add the capers and olives. Let the sauce simmer on very low heat while you prepare the baccalà.
Put the flour on a large plate, season with a pinch of cayenne (if using) salt and freshly ground pepper. Dredge the pieces of baccalà in the flour mixture and fry in the olive oil until they are golden brown on both sides. As they brown, transfer them to the saucepan with the tomato sauce. Once all of the pieces of baccalà have been added, spoon a bit of the tomato sauce over the top.
To finish, heat the oven to 400F and add the saucepan of baccalà and tomato sauce for 10-15 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Once done, remove from the oven, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve with some good crusty bread.