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Bacalao Guisado (Cod Fish Stew)

Bacalao is the Portuguese word for dried and salted codfish. Cod fish was discovered by Portuguese fishermen when their boats reached Newfoundland in 1497. The fishermen began fishing on the Grand Banks and discovered that this fish could be preserved for a very long period of time by salting and drying it. The journey back to Portugal was quite long so bacalao became a staple in the fishermens’ diet. It is said that the Portuguese have 1001 recipes for bacalao, however, it is also very popular in Galicia (north of Spain), Angola, Macau, Brazil, Greece, Scandinavia and Puerto Rico.

Bacalao usually comes from Norway, Iceland or Newfoundland. Bacalao is usually found in fish markets, and it is flat, hard and very stiff.

If you like fish, you will probably like bacalao. The saltiness of the bacalao, combined with the sweetness of the tomatoes and red pepper and garlic, make this dish absolutely delicious. The recipe below is the Puerto Rican style of making bacalao. There are many other delicious ways to make bacalao, but this stew is one of the best!


2 lbs. cod fish, fresh or salted

2 large onions (Spanish onions, if available), cut in half and then sliced thin

8 Roma tomatoes, sliced*

1 green pepper, sliced

1/2 sweet red pepper, sliced

6 or 7 sprigs cilantro or culantro, chopped very small (optional)

3 cloves garlic, sliced very thin

4 tbsp. virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

2 tbsp. olives and capers

1 tsp. oregano

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

First – Rinse the bacalao in cool water to get rid of the surface salt, then put it in a big bowl or pot with cold water. Let it sit for about one hour. Rinse the water out and add fresh cold water and let it sit another a while longer. Drain the water again and taste the bacalao. It should be only slightly salty. If it still tastes too salty, repeat the process with cold water. You will have to remove the bones from the bacalao. Once you have removed all the bones and most of the salt from the bacalao, set it aside.

Saute the onions and garlic in extra virgin olive oil, until they are transparent. Add the roma tomatoes and stir. Cover and cook on medium heat until the tomatoes cook down. Stir often to prevent the tomato mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When the tomato mixture cooks down considerably, add the green pepper, sweet red pepper, olives and capers, oregano, bay leaves, cilantro and black pepper. and cook for about 15-20 minutes, stirring often. Add in the bacalao and cook just a few minutes, until the bacalao is done.

In Puerto Rico, this dish is commonly served with boiled green bananas and green plantains. The bananas and plantains are boiled in salt water. Then extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar are poured over the bananas and plantains and they are served with the Bacalao!