Fried Baccala’ and Baccala’ with Tomatoes

Growing up in my Italian grandmother’s house, we always had fish on Christmas Eve. We didn’t do any particular number of fish, but since we weren’t supposed to eat meat on Christmas Eve (until we went to Mass that evening!), my grandmother always made some kind of fish for dinner, usually around 4 p.m. After Mass we had ham, potato salad, pickles, olives, cheese, etc., but before Mass, always fish and/or seafood.

I don’t *ever* remembering having baccalà (dried, salted cod), probably the most traditional Seven Fishes Christmas Eve fish there is, and I can only guess that’s because some people in the house didn’t like it.

Christmas Eve in Calabria

Fast forward many years and I’m in southern Italy for a Calabrian Christmas, all ready for the real, true Feast of the Seven Fishes (or 13 depending on what you’ve heard) — where it all began. And?

Niente. Seriously!

P’s family doesn’t even have a Christmas Eve dinner. In fact, our first Christmas Eve together we went out for pizza. I actually liked that and would’ve made it a tradition but then the pizzeria in the village closed.

So the following year I decided we’d do our own fish feast and make our own tradition. I believe that year we had fried shrimp and calamari and linguine with clams. Yum! We don’t have a set menu every year, but last year we included baccalà, and we’ll be including it from now on.

I rather enjoy the soaking of the fish and changing of the water in the days leading up to Christmas Eve; it makes for a nice ritual, increasing the anticipation of a delicious Vigilia di Natale dinner with each change of the water.

More on Baccalà

Baccalà is a very versatile fish and can be prepared many ways, including in the oven with potatoes, but our favorites are fried (baccalà fritto) and with tomatoes and pasta (baccalà con pomodori). Both are relatively fast (once you get the fish reconstituted, of course) and definitely easy and delicious.

If you want a more complicated batter for fried baccalà, check out Mario Batali’s recipe for Fried Salt Cod, but the way we do it in Calabria is *very* basic, as are the measurements, which you’ll have to adjust to your feast.

One small tip on baccalà before you begin? If it has a strong smell before cooking, you probably shouldn’t use it. In fact, you should be able to put your nose right up to it and smell only a very faint fishy scent–that’s when you know it’s good to go.

Fried Baccalà / Baccalà Fritto

  • Baccalà
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil for frying

1. Rinse baccalà in cold water and then soak for 48 hours, changing the water three or four times.

2. Cut baccalà into smaller pieces about 4 inches long.

3. Heat oil in deep pan or deep fryer.

4. In a shallow bowl, mix together flour, salt, and pepper.

5. Dredge each piece of baccalà in the mixture, being sure to cover all sides well.

6. Add floured pieces to hot oil without crowding and fry until a light golden brown.

7. Remove from oil and place on paper towels for a few minutes.

8. Serve as is or with lemon.

Baccalà with tomatoes / Baccalà con pomodori

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half
  • Handful of cherry or small tomatoes
  • Half glass of water or white wine
  • Baccalà
  • Handful of parsley
  • Salt to taste
  • Pasta of your choice (linguine is good)

1. Prepare baccalà as described above in steps 1 and 2.

2. Cut an “x” in the bottom of tomatoes and plunge into boiling water for a minute. Remove tomatoes from boiling water and put in a bowl of cold water. Once cooled a bit, remove skins (they’ll fall off) and chop into smaller pieces for sauce.

3. Heat oil on medium in large pan and add garlic, frying until light golden brown.

4. Add tomatoes, water, and a bit of salt and let simmer for about five to ten minutes, until tomatoes are broken down a bit.

5. Add pieces of baccalà and parsley and let simmer for another half hour to 45 minutes until the baccalà is cooked (depends on how thick your pieces are).

6. Test for salt, and if you are serving with pasta, prepare pasta as usual.

7. Remove baccalà from pan to a serving bowl and then add cooked pasta to the pan and coat with sauce.

8. Serve a piece or two of baccalà on each serving of pasta or just leave the baccalà in a community bowl in the middle.

Buon appetito!

Will you be having fish this Christmas Eve?

37 Beans of Wisdom to “Fried Baccala’ and Baccala’ with Tomatoes”
  1. 12.17.2008

    This looks delicious, Michelle. I still haven’t tried this. I see it all over the place, but uncooked it doesn’t look that appetising. Dan has and I think it must be one of those love it or hate it things (he hates it). So your hunch on why you never had it back home could be for this reason.

    casalba’s last blog post..Feasting & Fasting

    Definitely could be as you say. And no, the dried, salted look really doesn’t do much to sell it, but it is a rather tasty fish (and I’m not a big fish fan, although I *love* shellfish) 🙂

  2. Gil

    Funny about your family not having baccalà as we never really did baccalà either. I remember only one of my many aunts, my father’s older sister, that made some kind of soup with baccalà. It seems that all of my relatives always referred to it as ‘stinky’ baccalà. We kids agreed that it was stinky as we were only around when it was soaking and think we never had the finished product. This strikes me as strange because my father really loved all kinds of seafood and was always bringing some strange thing home from either the fish market or the docks for my mom to cook.

    Fast forward to the 1970’s, shortly after my wife and I got married and we took a trip to Nova Scotia and stayed in a hotel, in Peggy’s Cove, owned by an old fisherman and his wife. Being nosy I was checking out his boat and the shed at the end of his dock and walked into the fisherman. He told me that he was drying and salting cod for me and the rest of my Italian relatives. When I asked why he said he was making baccalà and I should now know what he was up to. I never told him that I was of Italian descent, so he must have recognized my names or looks to be Italian.

    Great story! Baccalà bringing people together….

  3. 12.17.2008

    Mwa. Mwa. That’s me kissing you on two cheeks. I could SMELL this through the computer. No, Really. I could.

    I’m not sure that’s a great thing for the morning, but hey, if you enjoyed it 😉

  4. 12.17.2008

    No fish on Christmas Eve for us . . .Marco is working (you know, for the folks who like to go out for Christmas Eve dinner), so he’s unlikely to be home until early Christmas morning. I did tell him last night that we needed to think about what we wanted for Christmas day dinner since we’ll be so busy immediately beforehand . . .it needs some forethought!

    I like your reflection on the ritual of soaking and changing the water, etc. Very nice!

    My first Christmas Eve dinner in Italy was ALSO pizza at a pizzeria! funny funny

    Kim B.’s last blog post..Beware of Leftists Disguised as Afghans

    P is horrible about planning ahead of time too. So frustrating! I have to do the shopping dangit! Too funny that you had pizza on Christmas Eve too…maybe it *is* a tradition 😉 I *did* have tuna on it!

  5. 12.17.2008

    I’ve never tried salt fish of any kind, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to try as it goes into so many really delicious-looking dishes whenever I see it used!

    I love your blog btw. I’ve been thinking of starting a food-based blog myself, if I do I’ll certainly join Blogger Aid!

    Vixel’s last blog post..Keeping You Informed!

    Thanks Vixel, and *do* start a food blog! Just start slowly and you’ll be hooked in no time 🙂

  6. 12.17.2008

    We will be spending Christmas Eve at my parents restaurant ( where we offer a special 7 Fishes menu. We have always had baccala on Christmas Eve in my family…I have never eaten it mind you…I prefer the fried fishes that come before it. Our clients at the restaurant love the 7 Fishes menu and many of them come year after year just because we offer it.

    Paola’s last blog post..2 am blogging

    Sounds wonderful! I’d definitely come to the restaurant if I were closer!

  7. My family is from the Caribbean but we had dried salted cod fish all the time. We never eat meat on Fridays. Our family isn’t Catholic but my dad went to Catholic schools growing up so maybe that is why we had that tradition.

    I haven’t tried fried baccala. It’s on the list.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza’s last blog post..Here comes the sun.

    That’s so interesting…more warm weather people eating cold water fish…hmm…fried baccalà is definitely one of my favorites now, especially when it’s just done in flour. With a nice salad, rather light and very yummy!

  8. Scicchi

    Perfect WCW, Michelle! We just got our baccala this past Monday(along with some squid and smelts). We usually do ours in a salad with olives and celery ,potatoes, etc., just something to pick at all night long. My Gram always battered and fried hers. Sadly, I never tried any of that stuff at her house on Christmas Eve 🙂

    Keeping these recipes, though, because I always buy more then I need for our salad.

    Quick story, the first time I ever did my own baccala, I noticed tiny little spiral things in the fish after soaking it. Started pulling them out and they were little worms! Turns out they were just “cod worms” or nematodes, which to my understanding, are harmless as long as they are dead, but still. The thought of them was enough to send all of the baccala to the trash. Thankfully it wasn’t the Christmas Eve baccala!

    Hah! You almost had a *very* interesting baccalà recipe there…I definitely would’ve ditched it too. There are some things best left to imagination, I think.

    Hope you enjoy these recipes when you get a chance to use them!

  9. maryann

    Oh how I love baccala! I never had it fried, but I hear it is delicious. We bake it with potatoes, onions, tomatoes, olives. Always on Christmas Eve. In fact I never remember having it any other day of the year! So although it’s a bit smelly while you rinse and change the water for 3 brings back to me loving memories of the warmth of the family. I really must do a post on it sometime.
    In the meanwhile, yours looks so delicious! I will add your baccala to our feast!

    maryann’s last blog post..Seven Fishes Feast Roundup!

    Thanks Maryann! I emailed everything to Joe as requested, so he should have all the vital stats, so to speak 🙂

    Our baccalà really isn’t smelly at all. Seriously! It’s also really flavorful…I’ll have to keep getting it from the market stall where I bought it!

  10. 12.17.2008

    Don’t know what I’ll be having on Christmas Eve. I have heard alot about baccalà, but haven’t tried it- can’t wait to try it someday though. Yours both look delish!

    My Melange’s last blog post..Contests and Giveways Galore!

    Hope you enjoy it when you try it Robin!

  11. 12.17.2008

    I loved your post today…in fact I’m printing it and showing my husband! Last night there was a commercial and the theme was “Che la Luna” anyway, long story short, I started to sing the rest of it…including Baccala and my husband said “that’s a swear word, all the Italian guys at work call each other that!” Nice eh? I said no it’s not a swear word it’s a FISH! He looked at me as if I were crazy…”you ask them!” I said. He doesn’t believe me. I’m going to show him your post! I win! I rest my case! Thank you Michelle!

    Lucy’s last blog post..

    Hah! That’s hilarious! I can’t imagine it’s a *compliment* to be called a cod, but nope, not a cuss word 😉

  12. 12.17.2008

    P.S. to answer your question, we usually have Swiss Chalet or Chinese Food, I think this year we’ll go to Red Lobster!!!!My Zia Letizia has a fish fry and I would love to go there and then play Toomala (spelling might be off).
    But I don’t want to invite myself.

    Lucy’s last blog post..

    Oh I bet if you asked your Zia if she’d have an extra few servings, she’d love to have you! She probably just assumes you have other plans and doesn’t want to intrude on your family. I hope you get your fish fry!

  13. 12.17.2008

    How unusual that P’s family doesn’t celebrate Christmas eve. It’s all about eating and excess around here! I ‘ll have 18 family members at my house both Christmas eve and at lunch for the 25th…going out for pizza sounds real good to me!

    A note to Lucy…here in Puglia calling someone a “baccalà” is comparable to calling them a dolt, a dunce, not too bright, the opposite of “furbo”…it’s not really a nice thing to say, but definitely not a swear word.

    saretta’s last blog post..Chiesa della Morte

    I’m happy I won’t be having all those people at my house! P’s mom is quite religious too…I don’t really know why they don’t celebrate other than the fact that most of the kids live away and don’t come home for Christmas. But I actually don’t know of any families here that do a big dinner…we saw quite a few at the pizzeria a few years ago!

    And yes, a baccalà is certainly an idiot 😉

  14. 12.17.2008

    Thanks for the Baccala Michelle! It wouldn’t have been right if we didn’t have any:) I love reading all the comments above… In regards to the “cod worms” my dad is an avid fisherman and can be found deep sea fishing MOST weekends here in New England (even in winter) and he often catches cod… the “cod worms” are there even in the freshest of cod… they should be de-wormed by your local fish market before you buy them but they are tough to see sometimes.
    Also, I asked my mother what they did in Calabria when she was growing up and she said they made 9 different dishes… not necessarily fish but it had to be 9.
    Thanks again for participating and buone feste!

    joe@italyville’s last blog post..Seven Fishes Feast Roundup

    Thanks for the info on the worms (I”ll just keep hoping I never see them).

    Too funny about the nine fish…always an odd number whether it’s 7, 9, or 13!

  15. 12.17.2008

    My husband is a big fan of Baccala` and definitely doesn’t wait for Xmas eve to try it. He has it once a week in winter.
    I don’t mind it, but I have one rule : it’s to soak in the garage out of the main house because the water smells so !

    Scintilla’s last blog post..Getting things into Perspective.

    We’ve been eating more often around here too. I’m sorry yours smells so much…I really don’t notice it. A little bit in the fridge, but it’s only two days…and so worth it 😉

  16. 12.17.2008

    We don’t have fish on Christmas Eve, but, as Japanese custom dictates, we always have it on New Year’s Eve. Then on New Year’s Day, we have some type of noodles (because long noodles = long life). There’s a chicken dumpling stew that’s also the traditional New Year’s Day breakfast although I’ve never made it. For Christmas Eve this year? Turkey. Drumsticks, specifically, because they seem particularly Dickensian to me, although I couldn’t say why.

    Ooh my grandmother always told me chicken was *bad* luck on New Year’s Day…because you’ll be scratching all year. Oh when superstitions collide….

    I love the idea of the long noodles! But what about the take-out Chinese you were supposed to have?! Dang guilt 😉

  17. 12.17.2008

    Michelle and Saretta thanks for the clarification of BACCALA, I can only say that is almost cosmic telepathy that you posted it about it Michelle and that my husband and I were discussing the word last night!
    Michelle I have forwarded this post to my Zia Letizia’s son to show my Zia! I hope she enjoys your post as much as I did and hope I get an invite too!

    Lucy’s last blog post..

    Hee hee…that’s a great way to go 🙂

  18. 12.17.2008

    Growing up we didn’t eat meat on Christmas Eve, but I can only remember one year where we did baccala and a variety of other fish courses. My tradition is to make linguini fra diavolo with shrimp, scallops and sometimes lobster.

    Oh yum! Can I come?!

  19. 12.17.2008

    Hi Michelle,
    Wishing you a delicious Holiday friend!
    May all you dreams come true!

    rochambeau’s last blog post..Christmas in Jefferson

    Thanks Constance! Same to you 🙂

  20. 12.17.2008

    I Love Baccala! We usually have some sorta shrimp dish and this year I am making crab stuffed eggs. I love Christmas Eve traditions when it comes to food. Have a wonderful holiday my friend!

    Deb R’s last blog post..Laugh of the Day!

    Thanks Deb! You too!

  21. 12.17.2008

    I will NOT be having fish this Christmas Eve, as I will be celebrating with a Polish family. We will have kielbasa, though, I believe, along with everything else in the universe (including my SIL’s mom’s KILLER jello mold – no, seriously, she uses ice cream and this thing ROCKS). As I wrote in my Seven Fishes entry, of all the days I wish I were Italian, Christmas Eve is the one I most wish it, as I adore fish and Seven Fishes sounds… perfect.

    Our fish stores have salt cod now.

    I hope you and P have a lovely feast!

    jen of a2eatwrite’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday: Seven Fishes Feast Entry: Tuna-Potato Chip Casserole

    Oh my goodness, I *love* kielbasa!!!!!!! Eat some for me please 🙂

  22. giz

    Michelle, thank you so much for this fabulous entry. I’ve actually even eaten this wonderful salt cod dish with Italian friends on Xmas eve – it’s wonderful.

    giz’s last blog post..Apple and Saskatoon Berry Stuffed Pork Loin Roast

    Glad you enjoyed the post *and* the baccalà, Giz!

  23. Woo-hoo! I am SO excited about receiving this book, Michelle. Grazie to you and Robert! Christmas Eve dinner has always trumped Christmas Day at my house. Heck, we’d be more excited about the fish than we would about Santa. (Just don’t tell him I said that.) 😉

    Susan from Food Blogga’s last blog post..A Recipe for Special Christmas Chocolate Chip, Cherry, and Pistachio Cookies and the Winners of the Christmas Book Give-Away

    Your secret is safe with me Susan! And enjoy the book 🙂

  24. 12.17.2008

    Michelle your fish looks so good. I havent had fried baccala since my Grandmother was alive. I can almost taste it!

    Oh you should make some Susan! It’s not difficult 🙂

  25. 12.17.2008

    We eat baccala a fair amount, but have yet to fry it, but this looks very tempting indeed! You can’t go wrong with frying things for Italians and Americans for that matter.

    Marla’s last blog post..Almost 6 Feet Under and Marmelatta di Zucca

    Very true, Marla. Very true 🙂

  26. 12.18.2008

    Sounds lovely — I don’t think my parents and I had a set Christmas Eve tradition in terms of food — DH’s family always did roast beef and pastrami sandwiches on Christmas Eve and a roast on Christmas Day, so that’s how the last 3 Christmases have been. This is our first Christmas where it’s just the two of us, so we are still thinking up what traditions we want to start.

    City Girl’s last blog post..What’s Cooking Wednesday – Shrimp Scampi Pasta with Feta

    I think it’s so fun to start new traditions…hope you have a great Christmas Eve and Christmas eating whatever you decide 🙂

  27. helena

    Battered, fried baccala is served in Greece at the start of Lent, and served with skordalia, the pungent garlic, mashed potato and olive oil dip. Can’t say it feels v Christmasy to me, as a dish, but that’s just the Greek in me speaking. Can’t say I ever liked it that much. Fresh fish always tastes best, I think.

    Funny I prefer baccalà to fresh fish, for the most part, but that could be that’s because I don’t have to avoid eyes and tons of bones 😉

  28. Austen

    Yes: always seafood on Christmas Eve! (Since I married an Italian!)
    Here in northern California we start with cracked Dunganess Crab!
    From Wikipedia….
    The Dungeness crab is a species of crab that inhabits eelgrass beds and water bottoms from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska to Santa Cruz, California.[1] Its binomial name, Cancer magister, simply means “master crab” in Latin.

    But then we give up on the “n” fishes, and go to “Hay & Straw” pasta.

    Sounds great to me Austen!

  29. 12.19.2008

    Ah, Michelle, I love all your posts but this one, well it really came through in spades for me! Half of my ethnic heritage is Swedish and as such, one of our Christmas traditions was to have Lutfisk for our Christmas Eve supper. I remember so well coming home from school to the unmistakable aroma (and boy, it really was an “aroma” too) of the lutfisk soaking out on the back porch off our kitchen. My Grandma always boiled this fish and served it with plain boiled potatos, a white-cream gravy and peas because the tradition was that Christmas Eve dinner was to be bland -in color as well as taste. After we came home from the midnight Christmas Eve church services, the goodies -fancy breads, cheeses, sliced meats, another traditional dish of jellied veal and then, of course the cookies -all kinds of ’em -were served too. I never learned the actual how-to of fixing lutfisk although unlike my cousins, I loved the stuff. I’d like to know how to actually fix it and have it for a Christmas Eve supper again some time but I’ve never seen dried salt codfish on sale any place here -not since the old general stores that used to exist in this little village went out of business back in the early-to-mid 60s. Great post with lots and lots of memory stuff in it for me.

    Thanks so much for sharing these memories Jeni…sounds like you’ve had some great Christmas dinners. If you’re up for a road trip, I know some places around Scranton have baccalà, namely Sabatelle’s in Pittston 🙂

  30. Marc

    Man, that looks good – I haven’t had baccala for quite some time. I think I’ve been inspired!

    Marc’s last blog post..Hubble Telescope Advent Calendar

    Do it Marc! You’ll thank yourself later 😉

  31. 12.21.2008

    Hi Michelle!

    Thanks so much for your congratulations and best wishes on the birth of my grandson, Leo! We are so excited to be going to see him soon.:-)

    I was introduced to baccala by my Calabrain husband’s family — on Christmas Eve my mother-in-law made cod “stoccafisso” cooked in tomato sauce and served over linguine, along with fried baccala, fried shrimp, stuffed lobster tails, stuffed and fried calamari, and anchovies inside the savory zeppoles. It was all wonderful! I’ve been making all the dishes the last 17 years, except for the stoccafisso because my children liked a calamari tomato sauce better. It’s such a wonderful tradition!

    Buon Natale!

    Hugs, Pat

    Pat’s last blog post..Some Favorite Christmas Cookies

    Mmmm sounds great to me…I *love* calamari 🙂 What a feast you put on!

  32. anne

    Looks good Michelle …. I would give this a go … No fish here .. but then I am not Italian ,,, My hubby asks me sometimes if I am British ??

    Hahaha you must be able to find some cod…it comes from cold water 😉

  33. 12.21.2010

    Jeezie peazie….that looks so divine! Wish I were there to enjoy it too! Hugs!

    One of my favorite meals indeed Pam! Wish you were here too!

  34. It is amazing when you are Italian-American and end up with an Italian from Italy – so many of your ethnic traditions are shown to be… American – but they are still traditions! And good ones! Merry Christmas to you and P.

    Amazing indeed Jenn — I’ve learned quite a bit since coming here for sure!

  35. 12.21.2010

    To the baccala’ with tomatoes, I would add a nice chopped onion (una bella cipolla) and celery leaves (from the garden – more flavorfull than store bought) foglie di sedano.

    Sounds great Elisa!

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