Bacalao, the Succulent Salted Codfish

If you visit Spain and Portugal, you may find a lot of restaurants offer bacalao on their menu.

But you can find bacalao in other parts of Europe, such as Norway.

No matter where you find bacalao, you may wonder what it is and where you can find it.

Bacalao is a dried and salted cod, though the French use the term to refer to unsalted cod. Many recipes contain the fish, and it’s usually the main part of the recipe. It works well with ingredients like rice and potatoes, and bacalao also makes a good ingredient for stews.

Whether you’re about to visit Europe or you want some new recipes to try at home, bacalao might be for you.

You can use the fish in a variety of dishes, so there’s something for everyone.

Keep reading to learn more about bacalao and some popular dishes and recipes for it.

What Is Bacalao?

Bacalao, Salted Codfish
Bacalao, Salted Codfish

Bacalao is a type of cod, but it’s also the Spanish name for the fish. You may hear people use bacalao to refer to any type of cod, but it specifically applies to dried and salted cod.

Drying and salting the fish can help preserve it, and you can rehydrate the fish before cooking it. That way, you can get a more flavorful and nutrient-rich fish.

However, you won’t always dry and salt other types of cod. So make sure you keep that in mind when searching for genuine bacalao.

Where It’s Popular

Bacalao is most popular in Spain and Portugal. The fish is popular in the Basque region of Spain, but you may find it in other parts of the country.

In Brazil and Portugal, they spell it bacalhau, but you’d be eating the same thing.

You’ll also find many people eat bacalao in the nordic countries, like Norway and Iceland.

Other people in Europe have eaten the fish for years, and it has become a staple in many countries.

And after trade began between Europe and the Americas, many Caribbean nations started eating bacalao.

Countries like Jamaica and Grenada enjoy the fish in some of their popular dishes.

Preparing Bacalao

If you want to cook bacalao at home, you can find some at a store.

Once you get home, you’ll need to soak the fish in freshwater for a few days.

However, when soaking the fish, make sure you keep it in the fridge to keep the water cold.

This will help get rid of the excess salt that helped preserve the fish.

You’ll need to replace the water a few times a day for a couple of days. You can then get rid of most of the salt, but you want the fish to be a little salty.

Before buying the fish, ask how salty it is because you may need more or less time to soak the fish.

You can also taste a piece of the fish after a day to see how salty it is. If it’s too salty, you can continue soaking it or cook it if you think it’s ready. 

Cooking Bacalao

After you have soaked the fish in cold water for a while, you’re ready to start cooking it.

You want to cook the bacalao as soon as it’s ready so that the fish doesn’t go bad.

Because of the salting process, you won’t need to cook it as long as you think.

The flesh can dry out if you cook the bacalao for too long.

If you’ve never cooked it before, keep a close eye on it. You can then use the fish in a variety of dishes to add some extra texture and flavor.

It works particularly well in stews, salads, and baked dishes.

You can use it in different cultural dishes, so there’s something for everyone.

Don’t be afraid to try multiple recipes if you don’t like the first one.

Bacalao Taste

Because of the drying and salting, bacalao retains some of its salty flavor, even after you rehydrate it.

While it’s not overwhelmingly salty, it does have some salt. It also tastes like other mild, white fish.

You may also notice a sweet flavor to the bacalao, and it can have a plump or firm texture. Fillets are more firm, and the fish isn’t as tender as raw cod.

If you enjoy fish, you’ll probably like the taste of bacalao. But if you’re sensitive to taste or texture, you may want to experiment with the fish to find a dish you like.

Luckily, you can combine the fish with other flavors depending on the recipe you use.

Bacalao vs. Cod

Most types of cod don’t follow the same preservation procedures as bacalao.

However, you may find some stores market any cod as bacalao. Before you buy bacalao, ask about its origins and preservation.

True bacalao will be dry and have salt, and you’ll need to rehydrate the fish before cooking it.

Don’t be afraid to ask if the fish is ready for cooking now.

You can also do some research to find a reputable source for bacalao.

That might mean going to a specialty shop, but it’s worth it if you want the good stuff. Then, you can avoid any potential confusion at your usual grocery store.

Bacalao Dishes and Recipes

If you want to try bacalao, you have tons of options. You can make the fish at home, or you can visit a restaurant that has it.

Because the fish is popular in many countries, you can find a cuisine you like, so you don’t have to make a specific dish.

Whether you prefer Spanish food or Caribbean dishes, you can use bacalao. You can also use bacalao in place of other cod if you like.

Because of that, you can make a dish that your whole family will enjoy. Here are some popular bacalao recipes that you can make in your kitchen or find at a restaurant.

Bacalao a la Vizcaina

Spanish Dish Bacalao a la Vizcaina
Bacalao a la Vizcaina

Bacalao a la Vizcaina is probably the most popular dish that involves the salted cod.

It’s especially popular in the Basque region of Spain, but you can find it anywhere in the country.

You may also find this dish in other Spanish-speaking countries, and you can make it at home.

The dish is a fish stew, and you can eat it any time during the year.

However, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans eat it during holidays like Lent and Christmas.

You’ll need to spend the whole day “making” this fish due to soaking it in water.

But you can prepare it in half an hour, and it takes about 45 minutes to cook.

The stew contains fish, potatoes, eggs, and onions. You’ll also need olives, garlic, and bell peppers, among other ingredients.

After you soak the fish, you can combine all of the ingredients in a pan and let it simmer.

Once the potatoes are tender, you’re ready to eat the stew. Feel free to serve it with rice or some root vegetables.

Ensalada de Bacalao

Bacalao Salad with lettuce tomatoes, onions and hard boiled egg
Ensalada de Bacalao

If you want something more refreshing, consider making Ensalada de Bacalao.

Ensalada is Spanish for salad, so this makes a great summer meal or side dish. You can even shorten the soak time by simmering the fish in water.

Once everything is ready, you can prepare it in about 15 minutes, and it will cook for 2 minutes.

Aside from the fish, you’ll need eggs, tomato, onion, and avocado. You also need olive oil and white wine vinegar.

Olives are an option, but you don’t have to use them.

As you prepare the salad, you will need to saute the onions before adding the other ingredients.

You can add more olive oil if you think the salad is too dry, so you can get the flavor that you want.

Serve the salad at room temperature or cold, and you can have it with rice or boiled yuca.

You can combine the salad with another entree, or you can eat it on its own.

Bacalao con Tomate

Salted Codfish with Tomato, Bacalao con Tomate
Bacalao con Tomate

Bacalao con Tomate is another great dish to try to use the salted cod.

Northern Spaniards enjoy this dish around Christmas, but you can have it at any time of year.

Like with other recipes, you’ll need to soak the fish, so you should start this recipe a day before you plan to have it.

You should use boneless bacalao for this recipe, and you’ll also need flour, olive oil, garlic, and onion.

The dish also calls for tomatoes, roasted red peppers, and a bay leaf.

Once the fish is done soaking, you can remove it from the water and cut the fish into small pieces.

Next, you use the flour as breading for the bacalao, and you’ll fry it in a pan.

After the fish starts to brown, take the fish out of the pan and add the garlic and onion.

Then, add the tomatoes, peppers, and bay leaf. Finally, you’ll put the fish back into the pan and let it simmer.

Then, you can serve the dish with some fried potatoes.

Bacalao con Pimientos y Cebolla

Bacalao, salted codfish with peppers and onions
Bacalao con Pimientos y Cebolla

Another excellent recipe to try is Bacalao con Pimientos y Cebolla or bacalao with peppers and onions.

The dish is popular in the Basque region, and you can have it with bread or potatoes.

After you soak the bacalao, you will rinse the fish and cut it into a few pieces.

You’ll also need dried red peppers, onion, and garlic. The recipe calls for green peppers, olive oil, and tomatoes.

Once you cut up the fish, set it aside and soak the red peppers in a saucepan.

Then, prepare the onions, garlic, and green peppers. Add garlic and olive oil to a pan for a couple of minutes.

Next, remove the garlic and add the bacalao.

Use another pan to cook the peppers, onion, and tomatoes. Finally, you can add the fish and combine everything.

You can serve the dish on its own, and you can have it throughout the year.

It doesn’t take that long to make, aside from the soaking time, so you can make it even on a busy weeknight.

Spanish Paprika Fish

This recipe for Spanish Paprika Fish doesn’t specifically use bacalao, but you can use any white fish.

If you use bacalao, don’t forget to let it soak in cold water for a day or two. But once that’s done, you can follow the recipe like you would if you used any other cod.

If you use bacalao, you can also hear this recipe by the name Bacalao a la Tranca.

Either way, you’ll need fish, flour, and salt. The recipe also calls for garlic, lemon juice, Spanish paprika, and olive oil, among other ingredients.

First, you will mix the salt and flour and use that as a breading for the bacalao.

Next, add the fish to a pan with olive oil and fry it on both sides. Set the fish to the side and cut up some garlic and parsley.

Combine the Spanish paprika with vinegar, then heat it on low in a frying pan.

Add the garlic and bay leaf as well as the paprika mixture.

Next, put the fish back into the pan and cook it on medium. Then, you can garnish it with paprika and parsley.

Spanish Cod With Pil Pil Sauce

Bacalao Spanish Codfish with Pil Pil Sauce
Bacalao al Pil Pil

Another dish you will find in the Basque region is Spanish Cod and Pil Pil Sauce, or Bacalao al pil-pil.

It’s a traditional dish, and you can find it all over Spain. You don’t need a ton of ingredients, but you need to keep everything moving so that the fish can absorb the other flavors.

The recipe calls for bacalao, olive oil, garlic, and dried hot pepper.

Of course, you’ll need to soak the cod in water for a day or two to get rid of the extra salt.

However, you can cut the fish into pieces before soaking it to help the process.

After the fish is done soaking, you can take it out. Then, you will cut up the garlic and the pepper.

Next, heat some olive oil on low then add the garlic. As the garlic starts to brown, take it out and let the olive oil cool.

Then, you can add the fish and slowly stir the olive oil.

Keep the pan on a low heat to help the olive oil and the fish juices emulsify.

Finally, add the peppers and garlic on top of the fish and let it cool.

Puerto Rican Fish Stew

Traditional Puerto Rican Fish Stew uses bacalao, and this recipe is slightly different from the Spanish version.

You’ll need to follow the same preparation to make sure the fish isn’t too salty. Then, you can start combining the various ingredients.

This recipe calls for garlic, onion, olive oil, and fish. You’ll also need chile pepper, tomatoes, olives, and cilantro.

The recipe has a ton of other ingredients to add even more flavor and color to the dish.

First, you’ll need to heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.

Then, you can add the onion and garlic a couple of minutes apart so that they can cook.

Finally, you can add the fish, pepper, tomatoes, cilantro, capers, olives, salt, and oregano. Let the dish cook for about 20 minutes.

After that, you can serve the dish with some avocado, and you can eat the dish warm or at room temperature.

Bacalao en Quatro Queijos

Moving to South American cuisine, you can make some Bacalao en Quatro Queijos, which is common in Brazil.

It is a baked dish that uses four kinds of cheese, and it’s not too complicated. You can make it at any time of the year.

You’ll need some bacalao and some cheese sauce, and other ingredients include milk, nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

You can also use some olive oil when frying the fish.

After you fry the bacalao, you can prepare your cheese sauce using milk, butter, and flour.

When those have a sauce consistency, you can mix in cheddar cheese. Then, you can add the fish and sauce to a baking dish.

This recipe uses a mornay sauce, a type of cheese sauce that uses milk and flour to thicken it.

You can use any type of cheese you want, so you can make the dish taste how you want it to. Then, you can serve it with rice or vegetables.

Caribbean Bacalao Breakfast

If you want to use bacalao in a Caribbean dish, consider making Caribbean Bacalao Breakfast.

It’s popular on the island Dominica, but you can find it in English, French, and Dutch-speaking countries in the region.

You will need bacalao, vegetables, and a fried egg. Vegetables include bell pepper, habanero pepper, onion, and tomato.

You’ll also need parsley, thyme, and black pepper for some seasoning.

After soaking the bacalao, you will boil the fish and cook it for about 15 minutes or until the fish is completely cooked.

You will also need to use a saute pan to heat the oil before adding the peppers and onion.

Next, you can add the tomato and thyme and cook for five minutes. Finally, you can add the fish, black pepper, and parsley.

You should heat the fish until the fish heats up. You can then serve the fish and vegetables alone, or you can add a fried egg for even more protein.

Cabbage and Saltfish

If you want another Caribbean option, consider making Cabbage and Saltfish, which is popular in Jamaica.

You can use any kind of saltfish, and bacalao is an excellent option. While it has a lot of ingredients, it’s not too complicated to make.

In addition to fish, you’ll need cabbage, oil, onion, garlic, and scallion. You’ll need tomatoes and a few seasonings, like black pepper and thyme.

The recipe also calls for warm water, dairy-free butter, and scotch bonnet.

Heat olive or coconut oil in a skillet on medium heat, then add the garlic, onion, and scallion and saute them until they’re translucent.

Next, put the fish and then the tomato into the pan and cook for a few minutes.

After that, you can fold shredded cabbage into the fish. Add the warm water and cover the skillet so that it can steam for 15 minutes.

Finally, you can add the butter, scotch bonnet, and seasonings. You can serve the dish at any time of day and throughout the year.

Saltfish Souse

Saltfish Souse is a popular dish in Grenada, and it works well as a side with a baked dish. As with other bacalao recipes, you’ll need to soak the fish in cold water for a day or so to rehydrate it. Then, you can grab the other ingredients and start preparing the dish.

You’ll need seasoning peppers, green onion, onion, and tomato. The recipe then calls for mixed sweet peppers, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

You can use a combination of soaking and boiling to help remove excess salt from the fish. After you do that, you can shred the fish into small pieces, then put the fish to the side. Next, combine the onions, peppers, and tomatoes in a bowl.

Then, add the bacalao to the vegetables and pour some olive oil over the mix. You can add some salt and black pepper to taste, then you can let it sit for half an hour. The souse works particularly well with Grenadian fry bakes, but you can pair it with rice or another entree.


In Greece, Bakaliaros (the Greek spelling of bacalao) is a popular dish. Many people consume it on March 25, which is the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary.

While the holiday typically falls during Lent, the Greek church allows people to consume fish on March 25.

One excellent way to enjoy Greek bacalao is to batter and fry it. You’ll need olive oil, flour, egg whites, and lemon juice.

The recipe also calls for white pepper, salt, and fennel fronds, though the fennel is optional.

If your bacalao has the bones in, you’ll need to remove those first. Then, you can let the fish soak as you would.

Next, you can drain the fish, then set it aside. In one bowl, beat an egg white into a meringue.

Use another bowl to mix the remaining ingredients, except for the bacalao.

Next, mix the meringue into the other bowl, then place it in the fridge for an hour.

Finally, you can dip the fish into the batter and fry it on both sides. Then, you can serve it with some garlic dip.

Battered Bacalao

Another Lent-friendly dish, but from Italy, is Battered Bacalao. It looks and tastes a lot like fish and chips, but you can use bacalao as your fish of choice.

You’ll need flour, milk, salt, and baking powder to create the batter, and you’ll need some oil to fry the fish. After you soak the fish, you can cut it into small pieces and set the fish aside.

Next, combine the water, milk, salt, and butter. Add a tablespoon of flour at a time, and whisk the batter until you get a moderately-thin consistency.

Now, you can heat your pan and add some olive oil. Dip the fish into the batter then add it to the pan.

Wait until the fish is cooked, then place the pieces on a paper towel to soak up the excess oil. Then, you can serve the fish with some lemon and parsley.

Norwegian Stew

If you want to have a Norwegian take on bacalao, consider making Norwegian Stew. This dish involves a lot of similar ingredients to other fish dishes, but there are some differences.

You’ll need some fish, garlic, olive oil, shallots, and red chilis. The recipe also calls for tomatoes, potatoes, pimentos, olives, and parsley.

Of course, you’ll need to soak the bacalao to get rid of the excess salt.

After you do that, cook the olive oil, garlic, and chilis, then add shallots and a pinch of salt after a couple of minutes.

Next, add tomatoes, broth, and dry sherry to the pot. Put the potatoes into the pot, then let it simmer for an hour.

Finally, add the fish and cook for 15 minutes or so, then add the olives and pimentos.

Then, you can serve the stew alone or with bread and sour cream.

Icelandic Bacalao

Another great recipe to try is Icelandic Bacalao, which is perfect for Easter as well as other occasions. You can make this dish with potatoes, bell peppers, garlic, onion, olives, and olive oil.

Heat your oven to 350℉ (180℃) and cut the fish into small pieces. Cook the potatoes, and slice the peppers and onion.

Next, fry the onion and garlic in some olive oil until soft. You’ll also fry the fish in olive oil until it turns brown.

After that, put everything in a baking dish and put it in the oven for five minutes.

Fry the potatoes in some olive oil, then serve the dish on its own or with some red wine.

Final Thoughts

Bacalao is a type of cod that you dry and salt to preserve it.

Once you take it home, you can rehydrate it in water before using it in various dishes. Keep these recipes in mind when you want to try something new.


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