Bacalao con Papa (Codfish with Potatoes) is a very popular dish in our country. It is one of the traditional dishes of the Dominican Lent.
Bacalao con Papas is one of our culinary treasures, and the popularity of bacalao guisado goes back to the times of La Conquista. Yes, it is possible that codfish, along with casabe, is one of our oldest dishes.
History of Cod in our culinary tradition
When Catholics were forbidden to eat meat on Fridays, and during Lent, fish was the obligatory option. Before Columbus set foot in the New World, the Basques had already established a large fishing fleet that traveled to present-day Canadian waters in search of the valuable fish. Salted cod thus became the official dish of the Lenten season, and one of the pillars of Iberian cuisine.
Second history lesson: no one has done more for cod in Spain than the Catholic Church. The endless days of abstinence that they imposed turned codfish, salted, or cecial --cured and air-dried like jerky-- in the king of fish of interior Spain.Source (translation mine)
The ease of transport and the duration of salted fish in storage made it an easy item to use during long sea voyages. And that's how cod arrived in our country. From American waters to Spain, and then back to America. Cod later became one of the pillars of the "triangular" trade with America: cod was transported in one direction and enslaved Africans in another. A food with a history of blood, sweat, and tears.
About our recipe
These days there are no more strict restrictions for Catholics, nor is the country universally Catholic, but cod remains popular, and this dish is still a Dominican Lenten tradition.
For this recipe, I have sought inspiration from my family traditions, where olives cannot be absent. There is not much variation between Bacalao Guisado recipes, but we would like to hear if yours is different.
Bacalao Guisado con Papa Recipe
- 2 lb [0.9 kg] of salted dried codfish
- 1 lb [0.48 kg] of potatoes
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil
- 1 small red onion , cut into thin slices
- 1 tablespoon of crushed garlic
- 2 green bell peppers , cut into strips
- 1/4 cup of pitted olives , sliced or whole, as you like
- 1 cup diced tomatoes
- 1 sprig of parsley , chopped
- 1 cup of tomato sauce (or 5 tbsp of tomato paste)
- 1 cup of water (Aside from all the water for washing and boiling)
- 1 teaspoon of salt (or more, to taste)
Desalting codfish: Rinse the codfish in running water, scrubbing off as much surface salt as possible. Soak the codfish in abundant water overnight, or at least two hours. Change the water at least once if you leave it overnight.
Boiling: Place the codfish in a big pot, and add about a gallon (2.5 l) of water in it. Boil over medium-low heat until the codfish starts flaking, top off water as needed to maintain a similar level as when it started. This may take 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the freshness and quality of the fish. Once the bacalao is flaking, add potatoes and boil until fork-tender. Remove from the heat and the water. Taste the fish, it should be pleasantly salty, but not excessively so. If it is still too salty you will have to soak in clean water for about an hour. If OK, set both aside until the fish is at room temperature.
Prep fish: Once cooled to room temperature, flake the codfish into small, spoon-size pieces, and make sure to discard bones, fins, and skin.
Cooking: In a pot heat the oil over medium-low heat. Cook and stir the onion until it becomes translucent. Add garlic and cook stirring until it's heated-through. Add parsley, bell pepper, olives, and tomatoes. Cook stirring until they are heated. Add the codfish and potatoes. Stir to mix. Pour in tomato sauce and water, mix to combine. Lower the heat, cover, and simmer until the sauce has thickened (5 to 10 minutes). Taste and season with salt if needed (probably not). Remove from the heat.