Bacalao, or salted codfish, is still very popular in the Caribbean. This probably has to do with the fact that in olden days, before refrigeration, encasing fish (usually cod) in salt was the best preservative. A ship would sail out of New England to say, Newfoundland, catch as much cod as possible, have it salted and brought back. This became a staple diet in the Caribbean, West and North Africa, Southeast Asia and Southern China. With the advent of refrigeration and the availably of seafood, salt cod lost its cache—but not in our family. We ate it regularly back on the block, and still do. It’s an ethnic thing.
Salt cold, when properly prepared, has a texture and taste unlike any other; and it’s so versatile. In our crowd we cook it in numerous way, whether stewed, in casseroles, with eggplant, with peppers, with rice, you name it. One favorite way, as shown in the following recipe, is with eggs. It’s a dish good for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner. You can serve it as it with bread or pair it with your favorite grain or pasta, as we did this time around with linguini. You can even make sandwiches out of it.
One of the reason salt cod lost its popularity is because, due to its salt content (duh?) it must be prepared for cooking. The usual procedure is to soak it in water to cover for at least 6 hours or, better yet, overnight. Then drain and rinse under cold running water, and again place in a pot with water to cover and simmer gently for 15 minutes or so. Now the cod is mostly salt-free. You can flake it and it’s ready to cook. There is an easier method if time is a problem: place cod in a pot or pan with water to cover and let it stand 15-20 minutes. Then drain the cod, place in a skillet and cook over low heat for 5-6 minutes. This ensures that the salt content is removed. We should note that, these days, in most places salt cod already comes with the skin and bones removed. So, no problem there. This makes it the more easier to prepare. Yes, I know, you’re saying, Why go through all this bother when I can buy any other fish and just heat it up? Well, because as Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof: “It’s Tradition!” Look, just try the thing. You’ll be surprised on how delicious this recipe is. Not only that, you’ll be contributing to the history of an edible that has been with us since time immemorial.
And, one last thing. The recipe calls for achiote, that Puerto Rican ingredient that is also used for flavor and coloring. Achiote is simply dried annatto seeds which can be found in Latino or Asian markets. All you do is, in a small skillet, heat ½ cup olive oil, add 1 tablespoon of annatto seeds (in most supermarkets they come in 8 oz. jars), turn heat to low and cook the seeds, stirring frequently for 5 minutes. During cooking the oil will turn a bright red-orange color. Remove from heat, let cool, place in a glass jar or container and refrigerate. That’s it. As mentioned, you can use the achiote to give food that bright red-yellow hue and enhance its flavor. Among other things, it make perfect yellow rice without spending loads of cash on saffron.
BACALAO CON HUEVOS
(Codfish with Eggs)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 pound dried salt cod, prepared for cooking (see above)
3 tablespoons achiote (see above)
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
6 eggs, lightly beaten
- Heat oil in a large frying pan or skillet. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is tender and slightly brown.
- Add flaked codfish, achiote coloring and oregano. Cook for about 3 minutes.
- Add beaten eggs. Sauté over low heat until eggs are scrambled to taste.
Yield: 4 servings.