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
Bacalao a la Vizcaína – Mexican Style
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
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).
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.