the easy way.
Baccalà in Italian simply means cod fish, but most people refer to salted codfish (or salt cod) as baccalà. It is traditional to eat the dish referred to as "baccalà", as well as many other seafood dishes, on Christmas Eve in most Italian homes.
There are as many ways to make baccalà as there are Italians. Southern Italians most often make their baccalà with salt cod, potatoes, and a red sauce.
Let's take the mystery out of this dish, and in the process, let's make it simple. Why? Because we can.
First off, let's take the main ingredient, salted codfish, and bury it in the back yard where it belongs. Not only is it expensive, around $20.00 per lb for good salt cod, but before you can assemble the dish, the salt cod has to be soaked in water for about three days with frequent changes of water. There's a reason it's called "salt" cod. The fish has been dried and preserved in salt - as in, it's completely inedible without soaking all the salt off of it's ugly little body.
In today's modern world, where fresh or frozen cod is readily
accessible, why anyone would want to go through such machinations is a
question that needs some serious pondering.
Does salt cod taste different than fresh cod? Yes. Since it has been dried and salted the texture is a bit chewier and the taste is a bit sweeter, while still maintaining a fish taste. I don't care for the chewy and the difference in taste is not a big deal to me. However, if you want to use salt cod, by all means do.
Let's get started on the cheater's guide to baccalà.
If you're making this for 6 or fewer people purchase about three or four jars of your favorite jarred tomato sauce. Yeah, I know. Horrors! Grandma would never use a jarred sauce. Oh, yes she would. The reason she didn't was because it was not available. Capice??
It's perfectly okay to make your own sauce, but if you are too busy, scarf up your jarred sauce of choice. I don't care which one you like. My favorite available sauce is Silver Palate tomato/basil made with San Marzano tomatoes, the gold standard for paste tomatoes. It's a bit pricier than most, so when it's on sale, I stock up.
My usual sauce in a jar is Classico, because that's what Costco carries. Prego is very popular, however, I find it to be one notch removed from poison, but don't let that stop you. It's your baccalà, go with what you like. And, like any good cook, feel free to embellish your jarred sauce with spices (can you say basil?), mushrooms, or whatever.
Cast about (couldn't resist) for some nice cod fillets. If they're frozen allow them to thaw. If they're thick, cut them length wise so they're only about one inch thick. Doing this while they're still a bit frozen will help to make sure you don't add a finger to your dish. Grab some paper towel and squeeze the excess moisture out of the fish, which will help ensure a flaky texture. You should do this with all fish before cooking.
Next, buy a bunch of russet potatoes, otherwise known as Idaho potatoes, or baking potatoes. Russets work so well because they are a mealy potato and soak up more sauce than other kinds of potatoes.
Scrub up those puppies and put them in the oven for a little precooking. Let them cool off and slice them thinly. Because you're using fresh fish, if the potatoes are not precooked, they'll still be raw when the fish is finished cooking.
If you're in angst because I'm not giving you exact measurements, it's because I don't know how much baccalà you're making. It's like making lasagna - you'll have to eyeball the whole affair. Only you are privy to how much you're making. At the bottom of the post I'll list how much of each ingredient I used for a 9 x 13 pan of baccalà.
Open a few cans of pitted black olives. I like to use 1/2 pitted Kalamata and 1/2 plain 'ol grocery store black olives.
Spoon a bit of sauce in the bottom of your casserole pan. Make sure your pan is deep enough for at least three or four layers (think lasagna.) Next make a layer of sliced potatoes slightly overlapping. On top of the potatoes, make a layer of your fish. Spoon on more sauce, a healthy layer of olives, and sprinkle heavily with Parmesan cheese. Repeat until your pan is full.
I like to top the whole casserole off with lots of fresh grated mozzarella. This is one area I don't go with the easy. Those bags of already grated mozzarella should be buried in the back yard next to the salt cod.
That's it. No big whoop.
Oh, and before your guests arrive, ditch the empty sauce jars, the fresh cod wrappers, and the empty olive cans. When they "oww and ahh" over all the work you must have done, just smile sweetly and say, "It was worth it."
Approximately what I used for a 9 x 13 pan:
Three large cod fillets split in half lengthwise
One jar of sauce
Two large russet potatoes precooked and thinly sliced
Two cans of black olives chopped
About a cup of kalamata olives chopped
About 1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese
About 2 cups mozzarella cheese
Salt Cod 101
Baccalà in White Sauce Recipe
Baccala alla Veneta