One of the first things that comes to mind when one mentions El Salvadoran cuisine is the country’s delicious pupusas — thick corn tortillas stuffed with refried beans, cheese, you name it. But as delicious as those are, El Salvador offers myriad culinary delights, many of which feature seafood, since the country hugs a nice chunk of Pacific coastline goodness. One of those seafood dishes is Salvadoran bacalao, or salted codfish.
Salvadoran bacalao is a fried dish prepared with hogao — in this case, El Salvador’s version of the Colombian awesomesauce featured on HellaWella a few months ago — and typically served with rice and salted red potatoes. It’s a dish similar to the fried bacalao that appears in Puerto Rican cuisine and a reminder to people who enjoy cooking of the delicious overlap there is in the cuisine of Latin American and the Caribbean.
Mama Gomez has shared her recipe with us, and we have lightened it up so that it’s healthier and easier on your digestive system. Hey, no one is saying fried food isn’t yummy, but you also have to take care of those arteries.
The thing about bacalao is that it’s very salty, so you can’t just buy it and prepare it straight away, unless you like saltlicks. The salt is added to preserve the flesh, and you’ll have to soak the fish in water to remove that excess. Those accustomed with preparing bacalao have slightly different approaches toward removing that excess salt. Here's ours.
The night before you plan on cooking bacalao, regardless of the method you employ, wash each filet thoroughly. Soak the filets in a gallon of cold water overnight. In the morning, dump the water, rinse the filets and repeat the process twice more. The overnight soak is the longest, and the second and third soaks should take at least one hour each. Make sure to rinse the filets each time you change the water. After the third soak, dry each filet with a paper towel and set them on a cooling rack so they can dry thoroughly.
Get the boneless and skinless filets, because de-boning this sucker takes time and you probably won’t get all of them. Mama Gomez has relied on the boneless filets for a long time since she had to cook for fussy eaters who weren’t terribly keen on fish in the first place.
Because we are foregoing the frying and going instead for the lightened up and healthier alternative, cut the thoroughly dry filets into small cubes.
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
1 medium tomato, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
Cilantro (haters can leave it out), chopped
Oregano, black pepper to taste
1/2 cup water
Add the 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to your pan and set that flame to medium heat.
Add the onion and garlic, and let yourself breathe in that awesome fragrance.
Add the tomato, green bell pepper and cilantro.
Stir it around a little, and add your oregano and black pepper to taste.
Stir while it simmers, about 3 to 4 minutes until your ingredients have softened.
Now add the water and when it comes to a boil, lower the heat so it’s medium-low.
Add the bacalao and cover, letting it cook for 15 minutes. About halfway through, stir and flip your cod pieces to make sure they cook evenly. Watch the heat, too, because you don’t want the hogao to dry up.
Serve fish on a bed of brown rice and top with hogao. This fish also pairs nicely with roasted vegetables, polenta or fried green plantains. What can we say? If you behave and don’t fry the fish, you can be a little bad.