Bacalao, a fish stew traditionally made with dried, salted cod, has been a Spanish staple for hundreds of years, and there are versions of it in other Mediterranean countries like Portugal as well. It’s an extremely nourishing, comforting and uncomplicated dish and the recipe below is how Salvelio makes it. Dried, salted cod can be difficult to come by and so he often uses dried, salted snoek, or even smoked or fresh snoek, in which case the dish will vary in taste each time. We recently spent a few days in Saldanha Bay, where Salvelio’s cousin, Trevor du Plessis, stocked us up on delicious snoek. If you’re using smoked snoek, however, it can disintegrate quickly, so Salvelio’s suggestion is to use half the snoek at the beginning, when you add your tomatoes, and then to add the rest towards the end of the cooking time so at least some of it stays chunky. Bacalao is served as a main course with crusty bread on the side to mop up all the delicious juices. Allow about 100g of fish per person – this recipe is sufficient for 4.
About 400g of dried, salted cod OR dried, salted snoek OR smoked snoek OR fresh snoek; good glug or two of olive oil; 1 medium onion, sliced; 2 medium cloves of garlic, sliced; 4 biggish tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped; 3 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1cm thick; 2 bayleaves; 2 cups of boiling water; 2 to 3 tsp sugar; salt to taste (do note there is no need for any salt if you’re using salted fish).
If you’re using dried, salted cod or snoek, soak it overnight in water, changing the water at least twice to get rid of much of the salt. Pat dry, skin and bone the fish and set aside.
Fry the onion and garlic in the olive oil for a few minutes, then add the tomato and cook through for about five minutes, uncovered. Add the potatoes, bayleaves, sugar, water and the fish and bring the pot to a healthy boil (remember to only use half of the fish at this stage if you’re going with smoked or fresh – as opposed to dried – snoek). Turn down slightly to medium heat and cover.
Stir it very gently, every now and then, so as not to break up the potato slices. Continue cooking on medium heat but watch that the stew doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. When the potatoes are almost tender, add the rest of your fish (if using smoked or fresh snoek); continue cooking until the fish is done. Also check your seasoning at this point.
The bacalao is ready when the tomatoes have completely disintegrated but the potatoes are tender but reasonably whole still – this should take about 40 minutes in total.