Archive for the ‘Seafood’ Category

Baccalà is a Christmas Eve necessity for me. Many of my other fishes have fallen, either from streamlining the night or for lack of interest, but the baccalà stays. It’s special. It’s intense. It requires me to think ahead. And what an aroma! I’m not kidding. I love smelling it while it soaks, briny and pungent, and then after, when I poach it in wine, broth, tomatoes. Wherever I go with it, that soft poaching lets its sea perfume shine through. I’m talking about salt cod, baccalà, not stockfish, air dried cod, because baccalà is what my Southern Italian ancestors tell me to use.

There are various Christmas Eve preparations. There’s one with lots of potatoes and onions, the baccalà left in big chunks, everything simmering up together. I’ve gone the tomato, white wine, and black olive route more than once. I love that too. You can fry soaked baccalà to make a kind of fritter. Nice. But over the years baccalà mantecato, a dish associated with Venetian wine bars, has become my Christmas Eve tradition (an almost identical dish called brandade de morue is made in Provence). I poach the cod and then whip it up, with lots of olive oil, a little garlic, a bit of potato, occasionally a splash of cream, into a fishy mashed potato. I also add fresh herbs and often lemon zest. Often I smooth the mash into a gratin dish and run it under the broiler with crumbs on top, for good texture. Then it gets scooped out and spooned on toasted crostini. A wonderful party antipasto to serve with prosecco.

If you’d like to try some baccalà for Christmas Eve, remember that you’ll need to presoak it. Allow two days for that. You might not need all two days, but you could, depending on how salty your cod is. I’d rather have it oversoaked than not soaked enough. You can always add salt if you’ve washed all the salt down the drain. And when you buy your baccalà, look for thick, white center cuts, avoiding skinny little grizzly tail sections that’ll be mostly skin and bones. The stuff I got last year was from Canada and very good. A few days ago I saw nice looking baccalà at Eataly, so this year, I’ll probably go back and try that. To make sure your baccalà cooks up tender, not dull and dry, be gentle. Once the salt is soaked out, that hard board you started with will revert back to being almost fresh fish, so if you think of it that way you won’t be tempted to hammer the hell out of it. Soft heat, soft music, nice aromatics (fresh bay is wonderful for poaching salt cod).

If you grew up with baccalà, you know what I’m talking about here. If it’s your first time, you are in for a treat. It’s so exciting. I wish it were my first time.

Have a great Christmas Eve.

And here are three of my favorite Christmas Eve inspired baccala recipes:

Baccalà Mantecato for a Winter Lockdown

Baccalà with Marsala, Roasted Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts

Baccalà with Potatoes, Black Olives, and Marsala

Here’s my baccalà mantecato after a quick gratinée.

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