Salt Cod

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Salted Cod Photo: Karl Ragnar Gjertsen

Salt Cod or Bacalao is a classic way of preserving a seawater fish. Because cod is not an oily fish, it could be preserved with salt before freezing was possible. cod was gutted, salted and packed flat while out at sea, then later washed and put on rocks to dry, so were sometimes called klipfish or rockfish. This allowed longer fishing trips from Europe to Canada to the cod fishing waters and then there was a ready market for the fish back in Europe. Cooking with salt cod never was popular in northern Europe, but is popular from Spain through to Greece and into the Middle East. Bacalao is one of the national foods of Portugal where it can be purchased in most retail stores.

Salt cod can be prepared in many ways, but is not popular in Northern Europe or the USA. Classic dishes are the French Brandade de morue, the Portguese Pastéis de bacalhau and the Spanish Bacalao a la Vizcaina.

Words for Cod and Salt Cod[1]

Language Fresh Cod Salt Cod
French Cabillaud, morue fraîche Morue
Portuguese Bacalhau Bacalhau
Spanish Bacalao Bacalao
Italian Merluzzo Baccalà

Buying and Preparing Bacalao

  • Buying: when buying bacalao or salt cod, the flesh should be white and the skin black. A yellowish flesh is old and should be avoided.
  • Soaking: it is essential that the bacalao is desalted or it is is unpalatable. The salt cod should be soaked for 24-48 hours at room temperature, depending on its quality. The soaking should either be in running water or the water should be changed every 3 hours. In Spain, the bacalao is soaked undisturbed in the fridge for 2 days. After this, the water is removed and rinsed off and then there is a final soaking of 6 hours, with a change of water every 2 hours.
  • Scalding: the Basques and some others scald the salt cod after the soaking. The salt cod is put in a pot of cold water, skin side up and heated until the water is just below boiling (it must not boil). The cod is then either left in the water to cool in the water or taken out to cool, depending on the next stage of the recipe. After scalding, the salt cod can be boned.
  • Poaching: salt cod must never be allowed to boil because it becomes stringy in texture. Put the salt cod into an enamel pan (not metal as this cause discolouration) and bring the water almost to the boil, then throw in a glass of cold water and finish the poaching at the lowest possible heat. Poach for about 18 minutes.
  • Quantities: allow 150 - 250 g (5 - 7 oz) per person.

Salt Cod Recipes


  1. Davidson, A. (1999) The Oxford Companion to Food, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0192115790.

Further Reading

  • Stobart, T. (1981) The Cook's Encyclopedia: ingredients & processes, Harper & Row. ISBN 0060141271.