Baccalà mantecato

Luca Marchiori shares his recipe for baccalà mantecato, a classic Venetian dish. Soaked salt cod is mashed with extra virgin olive oil until smooth, light and wonderfully fluffy. Luca serves it with toasted polenta, the traditional Baccalà mantecato accompaniment, but you could also serve it with grilled bread.

First published in 2016
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Baccalà mantecato is one of the most iconic dishes of Venetian cuisine. Back in the days when the Venetian Republic was a major European trading hub, huge amounts of preserved fish found their way from the icy north to the city in the lagoon.

In Italy, the term baccalà usually refers to salt cod, however in Venice it’s used to mean Norwegian stockfish. This recipe works equally well with either. If you get the dried variety you will have to soak it in water for three or four days to hydrate it, changing the water occasionally. Luckily, you can usually buy it ready hydrated.

It’s important to use good quality mild extra virgin olive oil for this dish as you will taste it. Anything else will be too bitter. Originally this recipe was made using a pestle and mortar rather than a food processor and some purists still use one, although it takes a lot longer and a lot more effort.

The finished dish, which has a light and fluffy consistency, is usually served with toasted polenta, still the staple carbohydrate in the Veneto and other northern regions. You can use the yellow or white varieties, but I think the dish is more attractive with the yellow. Italians nowadays mostly use instant polenta which takes a lot less stirring than the old type.

Ingredients

Metric

Imperial

Baccalà mantecato

  • 200g of polenta, instant
  • 600g of salt cod fillet, or stockfish, pre-soaked
  • 1l milk
  • 10 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 250ml of extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • chopped parsley, to serve

Method

1
Cook the polenta according to the manufacturer’s instructions and spread on to a baking sheet lined with a sheet of baking paper
2
Place another sheet of baking paper on top, followed by another baking tray. Squeeze together gently to flatten the polenta then place a heavy saucepan on top to weigh it down. Leave to cool completely
3
Place the fish in a saucepan with the milk, peppercorns and bay leaf. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 10 minutes. Take off the heat, cover and leave for another 10 minutes
4
Remove the fish from the milk and then mash it into flakes with a fork, removing the skin and any bones that remain
5
Place the fish in a food processor with 2–3 tablespoons of the milk. Pulse until it forms a paste
6
On low speed, add the oil little by little as if making mayonnaise. When you've used all of the oil the baccalà should have a light and fluffy consistency
7
Taste and adjust the seasoning as required. If you used salt cod, you probably won’t need to add any salt. Leave to cool, garnish with a little parsley, then keep in the fridge until ready to serve
8
Cut the polenta into rectangles (about 5cm x 10cm) and toast on both sides (under a grill or in a pan). Serve the baccalà with a piece of polenta per person and a glass of Prosecco della Valdobbiadene

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Luca Marchiori is a food writer, recipe developer and food historian. His blog Luca’s Italy is all about discovering authentic Italian food and sharing the recipes that Italians really eat.

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