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Baccalà alla Napoletana (Neapolitan-Style Braised Salt Cod With Tomatoes, Olives, and Capers) Recipe

Baccala alla Napoletana is an Italian cuisine, it includes potatoes, olives, tomatoes, capers, potatoes, and salt cod, also known as baccala. The meal, which is from the costal city of Naples as its name implies, is ideal for the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve. However, the Veneto and Liguria areas also have variants of this meal that are highly popular.

It may sound problematic to pair salt cod with salted capers and brined olives. The dish can easily turn into an inedible salt bomb, as I discovered throughout the recipe creation process. Testing with store-bought baccalà repeatedly produced erratic results. Even after extending the salt cod’s soaking period to four days, I was still unable to account for variations in salinity among salt cod manufacturers; one batch would work out flawlessly while another, steeped for the same period of time, would be a complete failure.

 

The majority of recipes don’t notice small variations in salt content. Potato and dairy, for instance, subdue the potency of salt cod in a brandade. However, there is no room for error with baccalà alla Napoletana. The cod pieces themselves were giving me problems as well.

This recipe is intended to showcase big, meaty chunks of baccalà. Since we don’t have that readily available in the US, I decided to make the salt cods myself.

Curing is frequently thought of as a difficult task, but salt-curing fish—particularly salt cod—is surprisingly simple. To be clear, the objective of creating the baccalà for this recipe was not to create a replica of the traditional, fully dried salt cod that can be kept for months. Instead, I intended to cure the cod for a sufficient amount of time to thoroughly season and firm up the flesh, making it go from soft to silky with a gentle chew.

To do this, I place thick cod fillets in a baking dish, cover them with salt, and refrigerate it for two days, adding more salt as necessary to keep the fish well covered (the fillets absorb a lot of salt during the first 12 hours). To reduce the saltiness of the cod, I rinse it and immerse it in water for an additional two days. In an effort to reduce the overall time required for this method, I tried shortening the curing and soaking times during testing. However, the resulting cod was either too salty or too delicate to be dubbed baccalà.

But the four-day procedure is well worth it. The firm, thick fillets have the ideal amount of surface chew that gives way to a velvety interior. The texture was exactly what I wanted, so I didn’t need to flour and pan-fry the baccalà as is customary to give it a light crust. Instead, I could nestle the cured fillets into the puttanesca-like sauce and finish them in the oven until they were barely cooked through.

Neapolitan-Style Braised Salt Cod With Tomatoes
Neapolitan-Style Braised Salt Cod With Tomatoes

Ingredients

For the Salt Cod:

  • 910g boneless, skinless center-cut cod fillets
  • Salt

For the Sauce and Finishing:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium-sized garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • One 795g can whole peeled tomatoes with juices, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup (70g) pitted black olives
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup tightly packed fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, roughly chopped

 

Directions

  1. Four days before serving, prepare the salt cod as follows: With paper towels, pat dry the cod. Spread an even 1/2-inch layer of salt in a tall, non-reactive container big enough to accommodate the cod fillets in a single layer. Put the cod fillets on top and sprinkle salt all over them. Use your hands to pat salt into the sides of the fish to ensure that it is completely covered. For 48 hours, cover and chill the cod, checking every so often to remove any liquid that has gathered in the container and salting as necessary to keep the fish completely submerged.
  2. After cod has been salted for 48 hours, remove the fillets and rinse them in cold water. Then, throw away the salt and rinse the container. Put the cod back in the container and fill it with cold water. Cover and chill for at least 36 hours and as long as 48 hours, frequently changing the water throughout that time (at least once every 12 hours). Salt cod should be drained and dried with paper towels. Cut the fillets crosswise into six equal pieces with a sharp knife. Place aside.
  3. For the sauce and finishing: Pre-heat the oven to 400°F (200°C) and adjust the oven rack to the middle position. Olive oil and garlic should be combined in a 12-inch skillet or sauté pan and cooked over medium-low heat, turning periodically, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the garlic just starts to turn pale brown. Cook the red pepper flakes for 30 seconds or until fragrant. Add oregano, capers, olives, and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring periodically, for 10 minutes or until the sauce slightly thickens.
  4. Add the fish to the skillet and place pieces inside the tomato sauce. The thickest areas of the fillets should read 130° to 135°F (54.5° to 57°C) on an instant-read thermometer after 8 to 10 minutes of cooking in the oven. Add some parsley and then serve.

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