What is Bacalao: Everything You Need to Know

If you have recently been to a Spanish restaurant or Cuban Café, you might have seen Bacalao on the menu. If you were too scared to ask what it was, this article has all the answers you need. Bacalao usually refers to dried and salted codfish. After the fish is cleaned, it’s usually salted and dried. 

You will find it sold in many different ways including as a whole fish, in fillets, and without or with the bone. If you buy Bacalao from a market, you can't just cook it and eat it like you can other fish. You will need to soak it in water for several hours and change the water every hour. 

This is because the salting process adds too much sodium and you will need to rehydrate it and remove the sodium before consuming it. At restaurants, this process is already done for you. Some restaurants also have different varieties of Bacalao dishes on their menus including stews, soups, and baked dishes. 

Where Can I Find Bacalao?

In some regions of the world, Bacalao is easily found at markets and restaurants. It’s most commonly found throughout the Iberian Peninsula, Norway, Iceland, and the Caribbean. It was originally made in European countries but quickly became a staple food when the Old World and New World began trading food and other products. 

It’s salted so that the nutrients are retained. Salting it also gives it more flavor. Although it’s dried indoors now, some countries still dry it outdoors. 

What Does Bacalao Taste Like?

Now that you know where to find the fish, you might be wondering what it tastes like before you buy it or order it at a restaurant. Despite being salted during the production process, it’s not very salty once it has been rehydrated and soaked. 

It’s mild, mildly fishy, and sometimes even a little sweet. It’s also tender and delicate. However, the salting process makes it less tender than what you might be used to if you eat cod or other white fish. 

Storing Bacalao 

If you decide to buy Bacalao, you need to make sure you are storing it properly. Wrap it with many layers of plastic wrap and put it inside a Ziploc bag in the fridge. You always need to cover it so that it doesn’t pass a fishy flavor onto other things. 

Once cooked, it is best to consume it right away, but you can keep it for up to two days in the fridge. 

Is Bacalao the Same as Cod? 

Bacalao is salted and dried, while cod is fresh and raw. If you are in a Spanish-speaking country, you will find cod sold as Bacalao fresco. This means it’s still raw and not salted. Bacalao is not very easy to find everywhere though, so you want to make sure you are buying it from a reputable source. Otherwise, you might end up getting another type of fish that is not truly bacalao. 

Bacalao is always better when bought from Iceland or the Barents Sea. You can check the packaging of the fish to see where it was caught or sourced. You should not buy bacalao from the Gulf of Maine, the Georges Bank, or the Celtic Sea. 

How to Cook Bacalao 

  • Bacalao is often found in stews and soups. If you are making a stew with Bacalao, make sure to add potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and vegetables.
  • You can also use potatoes, olives, onions, peppers, and sweet tomatoes to simmer the fish in a deep dish. You can then add in some vegetable broth and herbs.
  • Bacalao flakes are great for making a salad. Make sure to use fresh lettuce, other greens, and add a vinaigrette or some olive oil. Try to avoid using heavier sauces like Ranch or French dressing.
  • Covering the Bacalao with breadcrumbs and frying it in strips, served with fried potatoes is another classic dish.
  • You can also make fish tacos, or serve it with some fried plantains. 

Bacalao has endless possibilities and can be made into a variety of different dishes. You can always try something new each time you make it to see which kind you like the best. 

Final Thoughts 

Bacalao is a type of dried and salted fish that is a great addition to stews, soups, and salads. You can also fry it, or sear it to eat with vegetables or to add to tacos. Always make sure you are buying Bacalao from a reputable company or supermarket.  

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