What is the geographic background to the delicacy known as Bacalà alla Vicentina? If you are in the far north in the wintry sea off Norway, you are in the codfish grounds. The islands of this area are renowned for their fisheries and for producing stockfish, the ugly codfish dried by the freezing winds, that prevent the fish from degradation except for loss of flavour and becoming mummified.
We will tell the story of the bacalà another day, but here now learn the challenge of becoming a chef of Bacalà alla Vicentina, an old renaissance recipe from central Veneto.
With my tongue firmly thrust into my cheek I suggest that the first requirements for a successful bacalà chef are patience (don’t start this if you are hungry), planning and lack of need of sleep, criteria that possibly suit one who is caring for an incontinent grandfather. My source for the exact recipe is the famous bacalà restaurant, Due Spade, in Sandrigo, Veneto, whose bacalà recipes sate the taste buds of many a Venetian.
One first starts with a kilo of mummified codfish, bereft of any beauty, and soak the ‘fish’ for several days in water, changing the water every four hours. This is to bring back body in the fish (and possibly generate a taste of cold dried-fish soup – a Viking favourite). Several other taste enhancing additives are prepared, including onion and anchovies cooked in olive oil, while salt, pepper and herbs are kept ready for seasoning to enhance the taste sensation.
After several days, if you can still find the rejuvenated codfish, it is time to cook the fish, slowly and carefully for about 5 hours in a large aluminium pot (possibly helps to forget the recipe) – and soon you will have bacalà alla Vicentina.
It was at this time in the cooking class that I was reminded of an old Australian recipe for cooking galahs, a pink and grey native cockatoo, abundant in the grain growing areas. There are two ways to catch a galah; firstly wait for one to fall out of the sky; secondly, spread wheat on the road, wait till a hundred or so are munching carelessly and just drive through the flock, collecting 2 or 3 on the way. Light a large fire, half fill a big pot with water. Add lots of salt, pepper and herbs and a generous swig of soy sauce, plus a glass of dry white wine (the remainder of the five litre bottle should be drunk over the ensuing hours of labour). Tie a brick to the neck of the galah and put them in the pot (the brick stops the bird popping to the surface – alla Mafia). Bring the water to the boil, stirring regularly with a piece of old tree branch (adds more flavour). Boil the galah until the brick is soft. Pour off the water, throw the galah to the dogs, and eat the brick. It is an acquired taste, but solidly vegan.
It seems that the main difference between my galah recipe and the recipe for cooking bacalà alla Vicentina is that you need to wait a further day after cooking the bacalà alla Vicentina before eating. I guess that the reason is that after four or five days of preparation, you will be so famished that you will eat anything.
Don’t forget the Polenta, it adds colour.
To know more visit: www.duespade.com