Making Baccalà alla Vesuviana

Mario Batali demonstrates his recipe for baccalà alla Vesuviana (salt cod with tomatoes and capers), a traditional part of the Italian Christmas Eve Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Released on 12/19/2008

Credits

Starring: Mario Batali

Transcript

00:08
Hello, my name's Mario Batali,
00:10
and today I am making several of the dishes
00:12
from the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
00:14
It is traditionally served on Christmas Eve,
00:16
it's only in Italy that you would have
00:18
a seven- or nine-course dish
00:19
when everyone was thinking they were fasting.
00:22
This is an excellent example of something
00:23
that could be served as either an antipasto or a secundo.
00:26
It's based on the greatness of this right here.
00:28
This stuff's called bacalao, or baccalà.
00:31
It's salted cod.
00:33
If you couldn't find this,
00:34
you can use any fresh fish that you want.
00:36
You would cook it just a little bit more.
00:38
Bacalao, when you buy in Italy, is bought already soaked.
00:41
They'll sell it to you soaked, one day or two days.
00:43
If you buy like this,
00:44
which is salted relatively hard and dry,
00:47
you will soak it in changing water
00:49
every six to eight hours for two days,
00:52
and then it's ready—at that point, it's ready to go
00:54
for about two or three more days
00:56
and then it starts to break down.
00:57
The trick with bacalao is we're not sautéing it,
00:59
we're actually gonna stew the fish in the actual sauce,
01:02
so the first thing we're gonna do is make the sauce.
01:04
We're gonna take extra virgin olive oil,
01:06
we're gonna take an onion,
01:07
and this is called Baccalà alla Vesuviana,
01:10
which means in the style of people from Vesuvius.
01:13
If you've ever been (Onions Sizzle)
01:14
to Vesuvius, which is just outside of Naples,
01:18
it is one of the most remarkably delicious places
01:22
in the entire world.
01:23
And that's because, back in 79 A.D.,
01:26
Vesuvius had Pompeii,
01:28
this giant explosion of a volcano.
01:33
It deposited anywhere from eight to 25 feet of ash
01:37
all over everywhere that it landed,
01:38
which was within about 30 miles,
01:41
and that ash created this volcanic soil
01:43
that is absolutely delicious.
01:44
I have an onion,
01:45
I have about three tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil,
01:48
I have a tablespoon
01:51
and a half of chili flakes,
01:53
and I'm gonna take capers.
01:54
I like capers that you buy from Sicily
01:56
that are, in fact, salt-packed,
01:58
and then I rinse them overnight
02:00
in cold water and change it two or three times.
02:03
Then I'm gonna take crushed tomatoes.
02:04
Now, there's no substitute for great crushed tomatoes.
02:07
If, in fact, you're cooking at the house,
02:08
make sure that you buy tomatoes from San Marzano,
02:11
which is, in fact, also in the shadow of Vesuvius.
02:14
They're sweeter, they're richer,
02:15
they're a lot more complicated
02:17
than their Italian otherwhere
02:20
as well as Californian/Chilean substitutes.
02:24
So we're gonna take about,
02:26
I don't know, two cups. (tomatoes sizzle)
02:29
Whenever I put tomatoes in the pan,
02:31
I always immediately add a little bit of salt.
02:32
Today I'm using kosher salt, you can also use sea salt.
02:35
The only salt you shouldn't use
02:37
is the one that comes when and it rains and it pours.
02:39
It has absolutely no flavor component to it,
02:41
it's also a little bit just...
02:44
It's too easy to over-salt.
02:45
Now, I crushed those tomatoes a little bit,
02:47
but I like the fact
02:48
that they're gonna have little bit of chunks in there.
02:50
That's what gives this texture to this dish
02:52
and makes it exactly what I want.
02:54
We're gonna bring that to the boil,
02:55
and then we're just gonna drop those fish filets in there
03:00
and allow them to cook, so now we have it like so.
03:03
I'm gonna cut it into pieces that would, for me,
03:04
qualify as, perhaps, an appetizer.
03:08
Say, two to three ounces of protein.
03:10
Two of those together, of course, make for a secundo,
03:13
or a main course.
03:14
I'm gonna drop 'em in like so.
03:16
At this point, keep in mind,
03:17
your bacalao is already relatively cooked,
03:19
because it's been dried.
03:20
So once it's been refreshed, all you really have to do
03:22
is bring it up to the heat.
03:23
What you don't wanna do is overcook it
03:26
so that it falls apart.
03:28
I mean, that wouldn't be a bad idea,
03:30
but then it would be a pasta sauce.
03:31
It wouldn't be your main course.
03:33
So, when you get 'em in there,
03:35
we allow that to come to the boil.
03:37
And then I'm gonna take my herb components,
03:39
which are going to be
03:41
parsley, and in an odd little world, mint.
03:45
Mint is actually something that the Italians love
03:47
in many ways, but never in something so much as sweet.
03:50
In America, we think think of mint
03:52
as kind of a dessert garnish.
03:53
In Italy, they love mint
03:54
for the kind of sweetness and kind of refreshing
03:56
that it brings to something with tomatoes,
03:57
particularly when it has capers in it.
03:59
So I'm gonna take a little bit of that mint,
04:01
and I'm gonna chop it with this parsley.
04:04
And just give it a quick hack like so.
04:06
(chops)
04:10
Equal parts parsley and mint, into the pan just like so.
04:14
And I'm gonna save a little bit, always save a little bit
04:16
of your fresh herbs whenever you're using
04:17
so that you can sprinkle it over at the end,
04:18
so you get that kinda beautiful, rich, multi-favored action.
04:23
And now, in literally two minutes,
04:25
this fish is just about cooked through.
04:27
Now, this is an excellent example of a dish
04:29
that could be served hot or at room temperature.
04:31
A lot of times, Italians will serve their seafood dishes,
04:33
particularly something with a lot of tomatoes like this,
04:35
at room temperature.
04:36
So you can let it just sit here until your guests are ready
04:39
and Izzy's actually finished her third martini,
04:41
it's kind of important
04:43
to let her go where she's gotta go.
04:45
Take the fish out like that,
04:47
and then take some of the sauce—
04:49
Actually, before we do the sauce, we always finish it
04:52
with just a little bit of extra-virgin olive oil.
04:53
Turn off the heat...
04:57
And then, pile some of that rich and beautiful tomato stuff
05:02
over the top.
05:05
And then finish with just a little bit of mint.
05:08
We're gonna take a couple of leaves.
05:10
I'm not a big mint sprig dude,
05:12
but I kinda like it when it's just torn by hand,
05:15
which gives it that feeling that someone actually loved it
05:18
and didn't want to torture it.
05:20
Sprinkle it like that...
05:22
And then in the very last minute, right before you serve it,
05:25
a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
05:27
to kinda break that tomato sauce.
05:29
And there you have it, Baccalà alla Vesuviana.