In order to make its celebrated Bacalo Guisado dish, Tapas Cafe in Curitiba, Brazil elaborately marinates and boils the fish for nearly four hours. The process is not without a hitch; the delicate cod becomes hard as a rock in the process of cooking. But after a few days’ wait in pickling liquid, it softens again as it absorbs salt. It’s a process of building up and breaking down, of building up the flavors but also stripping them away. And the end result is nothing short of delicious: tender and richly flavored, Bacalao Guisado (Brazilian-style salted cod) is served with mashed potatoes and its own shallot-and-salt-infused broth.
For the pickling liquid:
1/2 cup molasses (light brown)
1/4 cup coarse sea salt (kosher or coarse rock salt)
3 cups water, divided use
2 medium carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces 1/4 inch thick on the diagonal. If you can’t find the small carrot pieces, use slices from 2 large carrots.
1 medium shallot, unpeeled, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly crosswise 1/4 inch thick.
For the cod:
1 pound dried bacalao, not soaked in water
2 tablespoons coarse sea salt (kosher or coarse rock salt)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for sautéing. Olive oil is a mild flavored oil that does not overwhelm the natural tastes of this dish. For a richer buttery taste, use butter.
To cook bacalao:
Plunge the cod into a large pot of boiling water. Remove from heat and set aside for 5 minutes. Drain and rinse the cod under cold running water, then put into a bowl of water that you have placed in your sink and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours. Change the water at least twice during this period. Remove the cod and pat dry with paper towels.
Cut the cod into strips 1-inch wide and place them in a bowl, then sprinkle with salt. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours. Rinse the fish under cold water and pat dry with paper towels.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until hot, then add the bacalao strips and cook, stirring just enough to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pan, until lightly browned on both sides. Transfer to a platter; cover loosely to keep warm.
For the pickling liquid:
Combine the molasses, coarse salt and 3/4 cup of water in a medium saucepan. Add the carrot, shallot, and remaining 1/4 cup of water. Cover, bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat and cook at a simmer for 10 minutes to blend flavors. Pour the liquid over the fish strips; discard vegetables. Serve with mashed potatoes or rice.
HOW TO MAKE BACALAO GUISADO.
The recipe is a variation of a Portuguese dish that calls for bacalhau—salted dried cod rehydrated in vinegar. Traditionally from Galicia, Spain and Portugal, the pickling liquid includes salt and olive oil as well as either vinegar or wine—and sometimes a little garlic and bay leaf tossed in.
This traditional Galician dish is known as Bacalhau à Sal (grove or bay salt cod). It’s made from one whole dry salted cod, first carefully rinsed and then put into a pot of vinegar along with other ingredients, such as carrots, onions, and perhaps garlic. The vinegar is allowed to simmer for up to fifteen minutes on very low heat.
The process of salting the fish causes the flesh to tighten and muscle fibers to turn white. Most chefs recommend soaking the fish in water for at least one day before the dish is eaten. The salted cod is then seasoned with salt and left to sit in the vinegar for an additional five to six hours or even overnight.
After soaking, it’s removed from the brine and rinsed before being cooked. That day, it’s covered with a bit of olive oil, then simmered in a saucepan until tender. To finish the dish, most chefs recommend a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
The broth can be served as is or thickened by whisking in 2 tablespoons of butter at the end.
Bacalhau guisada is often served with polenta and slices of fried eggplant or stuffed peppers. A batch-bake version of this dish calls for boiling potatoes, carrots, and onions together with a fish head, then using the strained broth to bake with tomatoes and cornmeal dumplings.
Note: when the fish is eaten, the diner is supposed to share a bit of the bone marrow with close friends at the table.
How long do you cook Bacalo Guisado for?
There are few different ways to cook bacalao depending on how soft or hard you prefer it.
The traditional and most popular method involves boiling the fish for a long time, anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours. The longer the boiling time, the softer, flakier and thinner the fish gets. In most cases (such as in a soup), bacalao is served with the skin removed.
Some cooks like the taste of bacalao soft and flaky, so the only boiled time for bacalao is about 20 minutes.
Bacalao is often pan seared to achieve a good sear on the skin before steaming it. This gives the bacalao a crispy texture, while steaming makes it thicker and creamier.
Can You Make Bacalao Guisado With Fresh or Unsalted Cod?
No, the best way to use fresh cod is to cook it immediately before eating. If you want to save the cod for later, make sure you refrigerate it in its entirety; do not clean the fish and then freeze it. Doing so will cause separation and loss of flavor. The fish will stay fresh up to five days if properly vacuum sealed. Do not refreeze uncooked fish or use frozen fish that has thawed and has been refrigerated.
Can I Eat Bacalo Guisado That Has Been Frozen?
Yes, you can eat bacalao after it has been frozen. However, the best approach would be to defrost the fish slowly so as to prevent loss of flavor and texture. Defrosting in the refrigerator is usually recommended.
What to Serve With Bacalao Guisado?
Bacalao Guisado Served With Potatoes and Sautéed Spinach
Bacalao Guisado With Plantains and Plantain Chips
Bacalao Guisado Made With Mahi Mahi and Rice Flour Pancakes (tortillas de Arroz)
Is Bacalo Guisado Fish Expensive?
No, bacalao is one of the most affordable fish you can buy. Most markets sell it at very good prices.
Can I Freeze Bacalo Guisado?
Some cooks freeze bacalao for storage during the winter months. However, freezing fish destroys the texture and flavor. Bacalao is best eaten fresh.
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