Cooking Panama: Bacalao – Salt Cod

By admin | April 18th, 2010

I wondered why in a land of fresh fish, Bacalao, salt cod is considered a special food in Panama.

The history I have found varies with the source, one source in Spanish explains that is the Spanish spread round the world they needed an easy to store form of fish to eat for religious purposes on Fridays. Another source I found is from Three Sisters Cooking School in El Valle Panama. I believe they are more correct, describing that during the age of discovery, salt cod was a very inexpensive, easy to store protein source that could be feed to slaves and laborers working the fields of the new world. Cod was abundant in the northern Atlantic, Salt  is abundant in the Caribbean and the trade in salt became important. Salt cod or Bacalao became and still is a part of the diet here and in much of the caribbean.

I was curious about the use of bacalao and asked Mayra to prepare a dish using it. wpid-bacalao-2010-04-18-13-27.jpg

We bought our bacalao in Price Smart, they have a mountain of it and from what we could see, the best quality we could find. It was not inexpensive, about $4 a pound.

The first step was to soak it for 24 hours in fresh water to remove some of the salt.

The preparation Mayra used was to build a cod sandwich. Using a dutch oven she first added a small amount of cooking oil.
The layers, first thinly sliced potatoes, the thinly sliced tomatoes, then thinly sliced onions, followed by a layer of shredded, soaked bacalao. Then she followed with another layer of each vegetable, ending with potatoes.

It was cooked stove top for about 30 minutes and served as all things in Panama seem to be, with white rice.

I did not enjoy it at all, but it is good to know there are thousands of different ways to cook Bacalao, my source cited above claims the Portuguese alone had three recipes for each day of the week. Add about every other culture that borders the Atlantic and you find a mountain of recipes to go with the mountain of cod. Just Google Bacalao recipe or salt cod recipe and be ready to relive history.


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