Skip to content
Mexico 1492 - Christmas Bacalao Recipe by Esperanza Vega de Zamudio

Mexican Style Bacalao a la Vizcaína by Esperanza Vega de Zamudio

Adapted and modified over the years by her son and my dear friend Mario Zamudio Vega

Mexico 1492 - Mexican artisanal details from Mario's home - Talavera pottery, alebrijes, clay pots

Mario Zamudio Vega has been my neighbor and a dear friend for more than 20 years. During those years, I saw him regularly inviting many of his friends to his home and feeding them delicious Mexican dishes. I myself raided his kitchen and ate his food so many times I lost count, but there was always one special dish he made that was the all the rage and always in demand – El Bacalao.
This essential Christmas dish is commonly made in many Mexican families for generations as Bacalao a la Vizcaína (Basque Style Cod), but Mario’s version was special – more flavorful, richer, exquisite.Mexico 1492 - Mario Zamudio Vega, translator, in his Malinalco home, Feb 2011
The original recipe came from his late mom, doña Esperanza Vega de Zamudio, who passed away 35 five years ago, but whose memory still lived on through this recipe. Mario, who is 78 years old today, remembers the times when he was a small boy helping his mom cook bacalao in the family kitchen. When he was a bit older, he used to sneak in the kitchen early on Christmas morning, reheat the bacalao until it was crispy, stuff it in some crunchy bolillos and revel in its intense taste with a cup of café con leche. He says that crunchy bacalao with café con leche became his Proustian madeleines – a powerful trigger of memories of childhood.
 Over time, Mario adjusted the recipe by playing with the quantities of some of the ingredients and the length of cooking, creating the recipe he shares with us today.
For this edition of Mexico Inspiration blog we needed some photos of the process, so  Mario, Tony and I  spent 3 days chopping and cooking together, reminiscing, laughing, breaking cazuelas, talking about Mario’s mom and his childhood, fighting over unimportant stuff  and eating bacalao 'till we drop, just like family. It was a great honor to learn how to make one of my dear friend’s most emblematic dishes, and a great pleasure in having a minuscule part in making this recipe immortal.
Mario attributes several of his best conquests to this recipe, so watch out who you invite to dinner ;)



Mexico 1492 - Bacalao Recipe

Bacalao a la Vizcaína – Mexican Style

Serves plenty


You Will Need:
  • 1 kg of salted Norwegian Cod
  • 1 l olive oil
  • 500g onion, chopped
  • 250g garlic, chopped
  • 1 kg new (miniature) red potato*
  • 3 kg of round, firm tomato, chopped
  • A large bunch of parsley (5 cm / 2” in diameter), chopped
  • 1/2 kg olives without bone, chopped, with vinegar**
  • 1 kg whole olives**
  • 250g pickled capers
  • 250g pickled long, yellow peppers (chiles güeros)
  • Freshly baked, golden bread buns (bolillos - bien doraditos) – the essential ingredient for the proper enjoyment of the dish – 2 per guest; interchangeable with nice birotes from Jalisco.


* Preferably 2-3 cm (1”) in diameter. If you can’t find the miniature version, use large red potato cut in small pieces. Make sure it’s not the kind that sheds its skin easily – important for the dish flavor.

**Mario loves olives and I agree with him. You can use a lesser amount if olives are not your thing but have in mind the intense taste and saltiness that olives bring to the dish are crucial and irreplaceable.

Preparation Time: 3 days (mostly desalination)

Cooking Time: 10h

 Mexico 1492 - Mario's Talavera pottery pieces


What To Do:

First, set apart a great deal of time and patience. This dish is a slow-cooking masterpiece and it cannot be rushed.

There will be plenty of chopping – if you have a food processor, use it, it will save you a lot of time. If you can borrow one, do it. If you rely on the knife and chopping board alone, open a nice bottle of red and invite some friends and family to help you out – that’s how it was done in the Mexican kitchens of the past when food was being prepared in large amounts for big events – there were many people helping the cook. There will also be a lot of stirring, so the more the merrier.

 Mexico 1492 - Christmas Bacalao Recipe - Soak the salted cod in water for 3 days before cooking it

3 Days Prior to Cooking

Soak the cod in a large container full of water for three whole days prior to cooking. Keep it in the fridge the whole time and change the water every morning and evening. Water should dissolve much of the salt that the cod was kept in, but it gets saturated with salt after a while and needs to be thrown out and replaced with a fresh amount.

On the third day, rinse the fish well. Shred it with your fingers as much as possible (do not leave large pieces) and remove any spines you find. Even if you buy the cod without spines or skin, cut it into 6cm / 2” sided cubes and review it in detail before chopping, as there may still be some spines left.

Mexico 1492 - Bacalao Recipe - Finely chop onion, garlic, parsley and tomato

The Cooking Day

(0 Hour) Place the olive oil over medium heat in an uncovered clay pot (cazuela de barro) or a copper cazo. It will take some time to heat up, which gives you enough time to chop.

Finely chop the onions, garlic and parsley.

When the oil is about to boil, add the chopped onion. The oil should boil very gently, so it will take a while. Stir regularly with a wooden spoon to prevent the content from sticking to the bottom of the pot.


Mexico 1492 - Bacalao Recipe - Heat oil, simmer onion until golden, add garlic, parsley and tomato

When onion becomes transparent and golden (but not browned) add garlic. Stir. When garlic begins to catch some color after a while, add chopped parsley (keep some parsley branches aside to garnish the dish when served). Keep stirring.

Chop the tomato into very small pieces (never blend it, it should not become sauce).

(Approximately 2nd Hour) When parsley begins to curl but isn’t completely fried yet, add the chopped tomato and let the mixture cook until the tomato pieces melt away. This will take a long while, about 2h.

Lower the heat and let the mixture simmer gently. Stir continuously.

Mexico 1492 - Add chopped cod to the mix; after about 2h add new red potatoes

(Approximately 4th Hour) Finely chop the cod. When the tomato pieces are no longer visible, add the chopped fish and stir well. Continue stirring.

Pinch every small potato (or a piece of potato) with a fork prior to cooking, so it can absorb the juices well.

(Approximately 6th Hour) After about 2h of cooking the fish in the tomato, parsley, garlic and onion mix, the tomato juice will partly evaporate. When you start seeing the bottom of the pot when stirring, it’s time to add the potatoes. Continue stirring slowly.

Mexico 1492 - Add potatoes and, after an hour, olives

(Approximately 7th Hour) When potatoes are soft and done (test them using a fork – it needs to go through every piece easily) add whole olives. Stir.

Chop the rest of the olives and keep the vinegar they came with. When you notice the tomato juice is almost completely evaporated from the bottom of the pot, add the chopped olives and their vinegar. Stir.

After about 20-30 minutes, add the capers with their pickle juice as well. Continue stirring.

 Mexico 1492 - Bacalao Recipe - Add chopped olives and capers

Once the juice has evaporated completely, the dish is ready. Let it rest for a while to cool off. If you prefer a leaner bacalao, allow the remaining oil to float up to the surface, collect it gently and remove it. Some prefer to use less olive oil from the beginning, but Mario doesn’t recommend it as the ingredients need the abundant amount of oil to cook well.


Your bacalao is ready! Serve it hot on a nice, artisanal plate and garnish it with the long, yellow güero peppers, some parsley leaves and capers. Mexican jalapeño peppers in vinegar go well with bacalao, if you like it spicy – serve them in a bowl apart so your guests can add them to taste.

Make sure there are plenty of fresh, crunchy bolillos or any kind of artisanal bread for some tasty, generous tortas de bacalao (bacalao stuffed between two halves of crusty oval rolls).

 Mexico 1492 - Mexican Style Christmas Bacalao by Esperanza Vega de Zamudio

The Day After

The best thing there is: recalentado! You can reheat your bacalao as many times as you need, it will be better and better each time.




Next article Fluffy Christmas Merengues by María Espinosa

Leave a comment

Comments must be approved before appearing

* Required fields