Salt cod slow-cooked with tomatoes, olives, parsley and baby potatoes is one of the most traditional dishes to eat on Christmas Eve in Mexico City, where I grew up.
Vizcaina-style salted cod originally came from Spain, with the Mexicans later adding more ingredients. Every family has their own recipe and everyone thinks their grandmother makes the best. As a child, the preparations felt endless: from the trip to the market where crowds of ladies would be choosing the best pieces of salt cod from huge mountains of fish, to the many hours soaking, and finally the long, slow cooking of the dish. It is usually served with arroz a la Mexicana (Mexican-style fried rice with tomatoes).
salt cod 1kg (available from quality Spanish food suppliers, such as Brindisa)
olive oil 500ml, for cooking
red onions 1kg, finely chopped
fresh plum tomatoes 2kg
garlic 2 heads, cloves peeled
dried bay leaves 4–6
dried marjoram a pinch
white pepper a pinch
green olives 200g, stoned
baby new potatoes 1kg, halved
dried Mexican chilli flakes such as guajillo or de árbol
parsley 1 bunch, chopped
pickled guero chillies (or pickled green peppers)
For the arroz a la Mexicana
plum tomatoes 5
garlic 6 cloves, peeled
chicken or vegetable stock 700ml
white onion 1 small, peeled
vegetable oil 60ml
white long grain rice 600g
bay leaves 2
carrots 3, diced
petit pois 150g, frozen
coriander ½ bunch, chopped
salt to taste
You first need to desalt the cod 24 hours in advance. Rinse thoroughly then submerge entirely in water. Soak in the fridge overnight, changing the water twice.
When ready, rinse the cod very thoroughly again and cut into chunks. Add cold water to a pan and cook the cod until tender. Once cooked, drain – keep some of the cooking water in case your sauce needs more liquid – and shred finely ensuring you remove all the bones.
Add the olive oil to a pan and cook the red onions on a low heat, moving continuously, until they are very soft and transparent.
Cook the plum tomatoes on a griddle until their skin is charred.
Put the tomatoes and garlic in a liquidiser and blend together. Sieve to remove all seeds and skins. Add to the pan with the onions and fry for around 10 minutes. Add the bay leaves, marjoram and a pinch of white pepper.
Then add the cod, olives, capers and baby new potatoes and simmer for 3–4 hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste – remember the cod is salty. I normally add a pinch of Mexican chilli flakes for an extra layer of flavour.
While the cod is cooking, make the rice. Put the tomatoes, 5 of the garlic cloves, stock and onion in a blender and puree to a smooth paste. Pass through a colander.
Add the oil to a saucepan over a medium heat and cook 1 finely chopped garlic clove for a minute, then add the rice and fry it, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes until golden brown. Pour in the tomato paste, then add the bay leaves, carrots and peas and stir thoroughly.
Season with salt, reduce the heat and cover, cooking until all the liquid has been absorbed, between 20–25 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it sit, covered, for an additional 10 minutes. Finish with the chopped coriander.
Add the chopped parsley and guero chillies or pickled peppers to the cod before serving.