Recipe courtesy of Santos Loo

Bacalao con Papas (Salt Cod with Potatoes)

In the 1980s, my family moved from Peru to a predominately Caribbean neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. During the first ten years in the U.S., my mom and dad could not make many of the Peruvian dishes we loved because the ingredients simply were not available. Being in a foreign place, feeling alone and unable to access our comfort foods created a culinary void for our family. This uniquely immigrant dilemma improved when we began to understand and embrace the cultures around us, and incorporated these new ingredients in our traditional Peruvian recipes to create fusions. In the same way I played with and exchanged ideas with my new Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican friends, my mom swapped recipes with neighboring families. Bacalao (salt cod) was one of the memorable Caribbean dishes my mom began to cook at home. My version for bacalao con papas is based on memories from my life back in Brooklyn. It combines ingredients found in most bacalao recipes of the Caribbean, such as potatoes, tomatoes, onion and olives, with ingredients I like to use in my stews -- Mexican oregano, tomato paste, piquillo peppers and wine. This recipe is easy to make and yields tender flakes of cod with creamy potatoes coated in a sweet-tangy tomato and onion sauce. Serve it over rice or with thick slices of crusty grilled bread seasoned with salt and a drizzle of olive oil.
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  • Level: Easy
  • Total: 2 hr 50 min (includes soaking time)
  • Active: 30 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
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Ingredients

Directions

  1. Rinse 1/2 pound salt cod under cold water to remove the outer layer of salt. Tear it into large strips (about 1- to 2-inches wide), place in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Let soak for 1 hour, drain the water and tear the cod into large bite-size pieces. Cover again with cold water and let soak for 30 minutes. Drain, cover again with cold water and soak for the final 30 minutes. Drain and squeeze out all the excess water from the cod with your hands; the cod should be very dry before using.
  2. Heat the oil and butter to a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until the butter melts. Add the bay leaf and oregano and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the onion, garlic, black pepper and half of the parsley. Stir to evenly combine and cook, stirring often, until the onions are translucent but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to coat all the ingredients. Continue to stir until the tomato paste begins to caramelize and turn a dark red, almost brown color, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the wine and cook, scraping the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Next, add the salt cod, stirring to coat the cod completely in the sauce and cook until the cod absorbs most of the sauce, 1 to 2 minutes. Finally, add the potatoes, piquillo peppers, olives and tomato sauce. Stir together, cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer the sauce until the potatoes are fork tender but still hold their shape, about 20 minutes.
  3. To serve, stir in the lemon juice and taste for salt -- typically all the salt needed in this recipe comes from the salt cod. Plate with cooked white rice or grilled bread and garnish with the remaining chopped parsley. 

Cook’s Note

In many recipes, salt cod needs to be soaked overnight. The method I provide in this recipe shortens that process. By tearing the salt cod into smaller pieces and changing the water multiple times, you can cut that soaking time down to 2 hours! Most of the time this dish does not need to be seasoned with salt because the salt cod, even though it is rinsed, provides enough seasoning. Make sure to taste the bacalao after it finishes simmering for 20 minutes before adding any additional salt.