“Los Bacalaos de Puerto Rico”
Butchery and Ethnographic Info:
The following recipes use the “end product” of the North Atlantic fisheries. The salted carcasses of cod, Gadus morhua, (sans cranial bits) were used extensively as inexpensive rations for seamen and slaves in the Caribbean since the earliest colonial times. In Puerto Rico, we seen colonial influences on cuisine but most people don’t realize there are significant regional differences for the same “resources” on such a small island. Here are the two most common recipes for cod, which represent a northeast/southwest regional variation. The northeast (San Juan) version is the more widely recognized as particularly Puerto Rican and comes from the more humid areas. The southwest version originates in Ponce, which has a much more arid climate (think cactus and scrub-land not tropical rain forest). These recipes should serve 4 people.
For San Juan Bacalao:
For Ponce Bacalao:
For both begin by preparing the fish in this way: Cut the fish into large chunks, removing any residual fins and the tip of the tail. Place in a glass or ceramic container and cover with water. Soak overnight, covered in the refrigerator. Drain the fish and bring to a boil with fresh water. Lower heat and simmer for about half an hour until it is soft. The cooking time can vary based on the thickness, saltedness, and quality of the fish. Drain and rinse. Flake the fish into large chunks.
For the San Juan style: Heat the Olive oil in a large skillet. Add the annato seeds and sauté for a few minutes to color and flavor the oil. Using a slotted spoon, remove the seeds from the oil and discard them. Add the sliced onions to the oil and cook them over a low heat until they are very soft and slightly brown. While the onions are cooking peel the Yucca and boil it in salted water until it is tender. Add the fish to the skillet and toss with the onions. Add the cumin and black pepper to taste. Combine well and continue to simmer for a few more minutes until everything is the same temperature and takes on a bright orange color. Drain the Yucca and toss with the juice of two limes and a little olive oil. Serve the fish over the yucca and garnish with lime wedges. Add salt and pepper to taste after you try it because the saltiness of the fish varies! This dish goes great with a crisp cold beer.
**note: if you cannot find annato seeds, Goya brand manufactures little packets of ground spice and you can find them “con culantro y achoyte.” These can be added directly to the onions and do not need to be removed (just use ONE packet!) Also, if you cannot find fresh yucca, you may use frozen cassava or plain old potatoes instead. YUM!
For Ponce Bacalao: Process the fish in the same way. In a deep sauce pot add a little olive oil and sauté rice for a few minutes. Add 3 cups water all at once and stir gently. Let water come up to a boil and then reduce it to barely a simmer. Add a dash of salt and cover tightly. Let steam for 17 minutes without removing the lid or stirring. While the rice is cooking, put some olive oil into a large skillet and heat over a medium flame. Add two crushed cloves of garlic (be careful not to brown it!) and the olives. Put in the eggplant and toss it. You may have to add more oil as the eggplant begins to absorb it…this is really to taste. Put in half of the bunch of fresh chopped cilantro and the capers. Add cumin and ground pepper. Cook until the eggplant gets soft, but not until it falls apart and becomes mushy. Garnish with the rest of the chopped cilantro. Serve with medium grain steamed white rice and a good full bodied Chilean red wine
****notes: The small varieties of eggplant work best because they are not bitter and don’t need to be salted or peeled. If they are not available, use the large variety of eggplant and cut it in thick slices and sprinkle it with coarse salt and let it sweat to remove the bitterness prior to cooking it. Peeling helps too! If you cannot find fresh cilantro (also called corriander leaf – the best is the variety which looks like parsley, but flat leaf works well too) you can also use dried cilantro/corriander leaf and a bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley.