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Salt Cod Salad

Salt cod, known as baccalà in Italian, originated in Scandinavia. It gained popularity in Italy at a time when fresh fish was costly and difficult to transport, solving the problem of what to eat on the many fast days of the Catholic calendar. Today, of course, fresh fish is readily available, but the Italians still enjoy baccalà prepared in a variety of ways, including this antipasto salad.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. salt cod fillet 
  • 1 lb. Yukon Gold or other boiling potatoes 
  • Sea salt, to taste 
  • 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced 
  • 1/2 cup pitted brine-cured black olives, coarsely chopped  
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil  
  • 3 Tbs. fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic 
  • 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, plus more, to taste 
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves 
  • Lemon wedges for serving

Directions:

Rinse the fish under cool running water, then cut into 4 pieces. Place the pieces in a nonreactive bowl and add cold water to cover. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, changing the water 4 or 5 times. When ready, the cod will have lightened in color and look slightly puffy.

The next day, in a saucepan, combine the potatoes with salted cold water to cover generously and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes, let cool slightly and then peel and cut into slices.

Meanwhile, drain the salt cod. Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a large fry pan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, add the salt cod and simmer until tender when tested with a fork, 5 to 7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cod from the pan and briefly pat dry on paper towels.

Remove any errant bits of skin from the cod and arrange the pieces on a serving platter, breaking up the fish into large chunks. Scatter the potato and onion slices and the olives over the fish.

In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice, and then whisk in the garlic and the 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Adjust the seasoning with salt and red pepper flakes. Garnish with the parsley and serve warm or at room temperature with the lemon wedges. Serves 4.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Italian by Michele Scicolone (Oxmoor House, 2007).