Tomato-Braised Baccalà

I love salt cod, otherwise known as baccalà. Years ago, I located salt cod at Whole Foods; it’s something I’d been craving since I left home! My mother used to cook it when we lived in Washington State. It came in a fishy smelling wooden box.

Before you can eat the fish, it must be soaked in fresh water for two days; the water must be replenished often. Because of the salt content, this is a necessary step before you can start cooking.

When I first purchased salt cod, early in my blogging years, I made a traditional Portuguese recipe with some, and used the rest in a breakfast recipe my mother created that I absolutely loved as a kid – salt cod with potatoes and onions, topped with a bechamel, poached egg, and capers.

So when I came upon this somewhat Greek-inspired recipe for salt cod, I knew if was time to order more, which I did. I ordered from Fulton Fish Market, that sells high quality fish and seafood.

The author of this recipe, Rebecca Wilcomb, states that “Simmering soaked salt cod in a tomato sauce filled with peppers, onion, and olives infuses the fish with flavor and leaves it flaky and tender. Sweet and creamy polenta, enriched with lightly tangy marscapone, sops up the sauce and balances the brightly flavored fish.”

Tomato-Braised Baccalà with Olives and Polenta

1 pound baccalà
6 cups water
1 tablespoon kosher salt, divided
1 1/2 cups uncooked polenta
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 cups thinly sliced yellow onion
2 tablespoons sliced garlic
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 cup dry white wine
1 (28-ounce) can San Marzano tomatoes, undrained, crushed by hand
2/3 cup pitted whole Gaeta or kalamata olives
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 fresh bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Lemon wedges, for serving

Place baccalà in a large bowl; add cold water to cover, and let soak in refrigerator 48 hours, changing cold water twice a day. Drain baccalà, and cut into 6 pieces (about 3 ounces each). Set aside.

Bring 6 cups water and 21/2 teaspoons salt to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high. Gradually add polenta, whisking constantly. Return mixture to a boil, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, uncovered, whisking occasionally, until polenta is tender and creamy, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from heat, and whisk in mascarpone until smooth. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium. Add onion, garlic, and red pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and onion is translucent, about 6 minutes. Add wine, and cook, stirring occasionally, until mostly evaporated, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add crushed tomatoes and their juices, olives, oregano, black pepper, bay leaves, and remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Cook, stirring often, until sauce is slightly thickened, about 8 minutes.

Add cod to tomato sauce, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cod flakes easily when pressed with a fork, 16 to 20 minutes, flipping cod pieces after 10 minutes. Stir in remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt or more to taste. Remove and discard bay leaves.

Serve cod and sauce over polenta.

Sprinkle with parsley, and serve with lemon wedges. (I didn’t use lemon wedges)

The recipe author suggested a red, but the cod is so light that I chose a pinot grigio.

By Published On: February 24th, 202247 Comments

About the Author: Chef Mimi

As a self-taught home cook, with many years in the culinary profession, I am passionate about all things food-related. Especially eating!

47 Comments

  1. Jovina Coughlin February 24, 2022 at 6:07 AM - Reply

    Looks frlicious

  2. Charlie DeSando February 24, 2022 at 6:44 AM - Reply

    Lots of flavors in this dish, looks great!!

    • Chef Mimi February 24, 2022 at 9:53 AM - Reply

      Thanks. Love salt cod!

  3. BERNADETTE February 24, 2022 at 6:53 AM - Reply

    This is exactly make fresh cod. How does using baccala make the taste different, do you think? Thanks for the polenta recipe. Using marscapone in new to me.

    • Chef Mimi February 24, 2022 at 9:54 AM - Reply

      It’s not just the fish flavor, it’s also the texture that is so unique.

  4. popsiclesociety February 24, 2022 at 6:54 AM - Reply

    Polenta and Baccalà is one of my favorite combinations 😋 What a great dish 😋

  5. Travel Gourmet February 24, 2022 at 7:04 AM - Reply

    What a wonderful recipe. I love it :)

    • Chef Mimi February 24, 2022 at 9:54 AM - Reply

      Thanks. It’s so satisfying!

  6. Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen February 24, 2022 at 7:15 AM - Reply

    You have elevated this humble ingredient magnificently Mimi! I love the tomato and polenta.
    I grew up with salt cod, my Aunt Marys cod cakes were a favorite of mine. There was always a box in the back of our refrigerators!

    • Chef Mimi February 24, 2022 at 9:55 AM - Reply

      I loved those wooden boxes when I was a kid, and I’d keep them for trinkets. But then they just smelled too bad and I had to throw them away!

      • Dorothy's New Vintage Kitchen February 24, 2022 at 11:27 AM

        I know, they were little special items! I still see that same box in our grocery stores.

  7. Valentina February 24, 2022 at 10:49 AM - Reply

    I’m actually a fan of baccalà. (Funny I know about this and not vodka sauce.) Ha! I’ve had a few variations of salted cod when I’ve been in Spain. This recipe sounds fantastic! :-) ~Valentina

    • Chef Mimi February 24, 2022 at 11:08 AM - Reply

      It’s so good, and so different than cod. As you know!

  8. Mary February 24, 2022 at 1:44 PM - Reply

    I have always wanted to eat Salt Cod but I have never seen it here in NZ. Maybe somebody will comment and enlighten me. This dish sounds delightful which I will save in the hope that I find Baccala. Thanks Mimi :))

    • Chef Mimi February 24, 2022 at 2:44 PM - Reply

      Oh goodness, I’m sorry about that. But you at least have lots of wonderful seafood there! I remember the green-lipped mussels in NZ most of all!

  9. Cynthia M Woodman February 24, 2022 at 6:51 PM - Reply

    I’ve never tried baccala, but this looks delicious! I’m on it!

    • Chef Mimi February 25, 2022 at 8:13 AM - Reply

      It’s worth trying! It’s just different!

  10. Tandy I Lavender and Lime February 24, 2022 at 9:54 PM - Reply

    We don’t get salt cod here, but we have something called bokkoms which is a local fish, salted and air dried. And it has a pungent smell. But you use it the same way, making these types of recipes easily adaptable.

    • Chef Mimi February 25, 2022 at 8:13 AM - Reply

      Oh interesting!!! I’m sure it’s very similar.

  11. Sherry M February 25, 2022 at 12:18 AM - Reply

    i love that wooden box! and i love salted cod. a fave is when you mix it with mashed potato to make a sort of dip. oh yes brandade.

    • Chef Mimi February 25, 2022 at 8:13 AM - Reply

      Oh yes. That’s good.

  12. 2pots2cook February 25, 2022 at 2:22 AM - Reply

    We use salt cod quite often and it is worth of that long process of soaking. We make pate and cod potato stew in most of the cases. I have never seen anything that would look like your recipe suggestion and I love it. Printing!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Chef Mimi February 25, 2022 at 8:12 AM - Reply

      A salt cod pate?!! Wow, please post that recipe!!!

  13. Molly Pisula February 25, 2022 at 11:28 AM - Reply

    I have never tried to make salt cod myself, but I had a wonderful salt cod brandade when we visited the south of France. I baked it and served with a big green salad, and it was fantastic. Will have to try your recipe someday!

    • Chef Mimi February 25, 2022 at 1:39 PM - Reply

      Oh I love brandade! I’ve only made it with salmon, which I know isn’t traditional.

  14. Ann Coleman February 25, 2022 at 1:07 PM - Reply

    I’ve never tried salt cod, but that recipe sure looks good!

    • Chef Mimi February 25, 2022 at 1:39 PM - Reply

      I hope you get a chance to try it sometime!

  15. Jeff the Chef February 26, 2022 at 10:21 AM - Reply

    This really does sound good, no question. I’ve never had salt cod. I had never even heard of it until a few years ago when I was looking for ways to cook fresh cod.

    • Chef Mimi February 27, 2022 at 8:12 AM - Reply

      Well, fresh cod is certainly good, too. But it’s worth a taste, for sure.

  16. neil@neilshealthymeals.com February 26, 2022 at 3:04 PM - Reply

    Salt cod isn’t something I’ve ever had! This dish is enough to make me want to try it though. Sounds yummy!

    • Chef Mimi February 27, 2022 at 8:12 AM - Reply

      It’s really fantastic, even though we don’t need to salt cod any more for storage purposes, since we have refrigerators. But I’m gad they keep salting it!

  17. Frank Fariello February 27, 2022 at 7:57 AM - Reply

    As you may know, I absolutely adore baccalà! And this looks like a fine way to enjoy it, quite similar to the Neapolitan style (minus the polenta). Have you ever tried baccalà alla vicentina? There they also combine it with polenta, it’s a nice combo.

    • Chef Mimi February 27, 2022 at 8:11 AM - Reply

      No! I’ll have to check that out! Thanks.

  18. Ronit Penso Tasty Eats February 27, 2022 at 3:10 PM - Reply

    I tried using salt cod, but could not stand the smell of it while soaking! But the sauce and polenta look so good, I may use them with fresh fish. :)

    • Chef Mimi February 27, 2022 at 4:13 PM - Reply

      Oh no! It is a funny fish and salty smell!

  19. Eva Taylor March 1, 2022 at 7:21 AM - Reply

    That does look delicious. I’ve not had salt cod before but I do love regular cod.

    • Chef Mimi March 1, 2022 at 9:02 AM - Reply

      That would be excellent as well with this sauce.

  20. terrie gura March 1, 2022 at 11:49 AM - Reply

    Oh, yum! I love every single thing about this recipe, Mimi! The rich tomato sauce with the olives sounds perfect with the cod, and I love that this recipe uses mascarpone. I’ll be checking out that salt cod breakfast post next!

    • Chef Mimi March 1, 2022 at 2:31 PM - Reply

      Oh do! That is one fabulous recipe!

  21. Thao @ In Good Flavor March 2, 2022 at 7:39 PM - Reply

    I would’ve never thought to pair salt cod with polenta, but this looks so good and sounds so flavorful! I really like the addition of mascarpone to the polenta. It must make it super creamy.

    • Chef Mimi March 3, 2022 at 8:47 AM - Reply

      I think it mostly works because of the red sauce…

  22. Raymund March 2, 2022 at 8:47 PM - Reply

    All salt cod dishes are on the top of my list, they are just delcious, so good even I am allergic to it, I still eat them, just with anti histamine on the side. You recipe looks amazing

    • Chef Mimi March 3, 2022 at 8:47 AM - Reply

      Oh no! I’m so sorry you are allergic!!!

  23. Abbe@This is How I Cook March 4, 2022 at 5:46 PM - Reply

    I have always wanted to try salt cod. Not easy to find so I am wondering if there is a difference in texture between the fresh cold and the salted? This recipe sounds fabulous!

    • Chef Mimi March 6, 2022 at 8:03 AM - Reply

      Definitely a textural difference. I hope you can find some because it’s worth trying.

  24. David Scott Allen April 9, 2022 at 8:27 AM - Reply

    My word, I don’t know how I missed this! This baccalà recipe was something we had often in Italy , and loved it. Just added this to my paprika — now I need to source salt cod in the desert…

    • Chef Mimi April 9, 2022 at 8:29 AM - Reply

      I love salt cod! This was a great recipe.

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