Baccalà Mantecato

When I first encountered baccalà  mantecato decades ago at Bottegon già Schiavi on rio San Trovaso, I refused it, because in my ignorance, I thought the white, fluffy, creamy stuff had to have been made with mayonnaise, and I just didn’t find that appealing. It’s not, of course; as I discovered not long after. It is instead the rehydrated, pulverized codfish that becomes white and creamy from the frusta whipping it receives … and it tastes not like mayonaise, but like buh-dah.

Of course, if you’re already a Venezia-phile, this is not news to you. It’s an common delicacy served throughout the bàcari and eateries of Venice, as cicchetti and antipasti, but far too easy to overlook if you’re not adventurous, or tuned-in. If you haven’t tried it, do partake, you will not regret it.

Baccalà is stoccafisso, stockfish. It is normally codfish that’s boiled, skinned, and literally beaten to a pulp, as olive oil is drizzled al filo, and seasoned with a little salt and fresh pepper. Some recipes stop there, others add garlic and Italian parsley. Don’t ask me to explain who serves it how; every time I ask anyone from expert on down I get a different story, leading me think that as in so many things Italian, there is no one, specific answer. Anyway, it’s awfully good, spread on fresh bread, or over grilled polenta, another staple of the Veneto diet.

If, after partaking of this very common but highly-satisfying delicacy you’d like to try it on your own, here’s a recipe that I translated from a little book called Il Pesce: Come si cucina a Venezia, that’s pretty much an amalgamation of the many recounted to me…although my sense is the recipe is far less important than the technique. I tried it myself, and although I’m not ready to open up my own cicchetteria (lucky for you)…non ghe xè mal, not too bad! I did not conduct a Venetian Taste Test however — maybe on the next attempt…

Bacaeà  Mantecà  (Baccalà  Mantecato)

This is not a difficult recipe, but it is the traditional one, and so is fairly labor intensive and requires a bit of finesse, not to mention sheer brute strength. It’s one of those recipes where you’ll develop your own particular process to arrive a the tasty, frothy, result. You may bail on tradition and choose to use an electric mixer of course…that’s up to you.

Ingredients:

  • 1 – 1.25 lbs (600 gr.) of fresh, whole, cleaned cod or stock fish (or rehydrated fro air-dried cod)
  • Italian olive oil (fruitty, extra-virgin)

Optional:

  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • a handful of Italian parsley, stems removed, chopped

Bring the fish (whole) to a medium boil in a large pot of water (some add milk when cooking) for about 40 minutes (don’t overcook, however). Remove the skin, head, tail, and de-bone.

Place the fish meat in a heavy mixing bowl, and beat/whip with a wooden mallet or other heavy utensil into small mince-sized pieces. Continue to whip/beat energetically, drizzling the oil “a filo,” that is, “by thread,” little by little, until it becomes a whipped, white paste. (Some small pieces of fish are likely to remain, however; this is normal.)

(Add parsley, minced garlic, salt, and fresh pepper to taste.)

Garnish with remaining parsley. Serve on fresh bread, or grilled polenta; excellent accompanied by a fresh Friulano Tocai.

Buon appetito!

11 Responses to Baccalà Mantecato
  1. Ivonne
    January 28, 2006 | 10:27 pm

    Nan,

    I have never tried baccala’ in this way, but you have now convinced me to do so!

    We eat a lot of baccala’. In particular we eat it in winter in a stimple stew of tomato sauce with potatoes and cured olives.

    Thank you for sharing the recipe.

  2. marisa
    January 30, 2006 | 12:32 pm

    My grandmother would make baccala at Christmas Eve and throughout the winter but I had the creamy recipe at a restaurant in Brooklyn,NY (Park Slope section) called Al di La. It was wonderful and it was served with grilled polenta–yum! They also served Liver Venetian Style–it’s my Venice fix when I cannot go to Venice.

  3. nan
    January 30, 2006 | 3:04 pm

    Fegato Veneziano is famosissimo…I am NOT a liver-lover so I can’t muster the courage to order it. The next time I’m out to dinner with someone who does, I’m going to give it a try. Probably.

    I’ve had baccalà prepared with a food processor. Oddly-frothy if you’re used to the hand-beaten, but delicious. It’s all good…mmm.

  4. Peter Palmieri
    February 7, 2006 | 11:53 pm

    Nan–I think you might be interested in this website (in case you haven’t seen it):
    http://turismo.regione.veneto.it/it/cucina/tipologia.php

    I have won a few bets cooking fagato alla veneziana from people who hate liver. It is much easier to find the right liver–it must be pink–in Veneto than here in the US. Unless you find this very tasty liver don’t begin to try it.

    By the way if you find yourself where we are, you are invited to dinner or lunch as our guest. You won’t need any cash!

    The bacala I have ever had was at Le Colline Ciociare in Acuto. It was their rendition of bacala mantecato. Acuto is adjacent to Fiuggi about 50 miles south of Rome.

    Best regards,

    Peter

  5. nan
    February 8, 2006 | 12:45 am

    OK, the next Venetian Fegato I run across (after ensuring it’s the pink kind), I’m taking the plunge. Rest assured however, that you will hear the result.

    I have seen that site, and it’s a good one. I thought about putting it here; but it’s in Italian and I don’t think I have many Italian visitors. I use it as back up; I like to do my research from the ground up, as in from the people who live here, that cook well, where I happen to have the good fortune to have been invited for dinner! It’s fascinating, there’s a Murano cookbook, a Tola coi nostri Veci, that’s all local cuisine, and the recipes are narrative: no list of ingredients, just a sort of “you take some gamberetti, then…” approach, with each recipe being identified by the family who prepares the dish that way. Favoloso.

    But Peter, I’m a Veneto snob — I’m not heading for Acuto for bacalà, macchè!

    Grazie per esser fermato, ed a presto per la cena!

  6. Terri Mayson Williams
    February 22, 2006 | 12:09 am

    So glad to see someone else hates mayonnaise. Ick! I have been nervous about my upcoming (may) trip to Venice, in part because of the baccala’/cichetti thing (much more comfy about Florence–go figure?). Your blog is making me look forward to trying it. Any recommendations for baccala’ in Dorsoduro?

  7. nan
    February 22, 2006 | 10:05 am

    Nervous? No! You’ll love it. Eat More Fish. I’m always heartbroken when people come here and order spaghetti with tomato sauce, it’s part of traveling to try the local cuisine…which is excellent. I have consistently watched every person who says “I don’t care for fish” clean their plate when they let me order. It’s the idea that’s scary, the food is stupendous!

    Try il Vecio Forner in Campo San Vio, Vini Padovani off Calle della Toletta and the Cantinone on the Rio San Trovaso for some tasty bacalà, but why not do a taste exploration, try it everywhere and then rate your own list!

  8. nan
    April 4, 2006 | 11:24 am

    I still can’t believe it. My dear Giovanni, the moment he heard I had never tried Fegato Veneziano, came to the apartment loaded down with everything for dinner for me, my visiting neice, and some friends, never saying what he had brought to serve. (When someone else is cooking, do I care?)

    I saw the fegato only at the moment he was ready to cook if (furbetto), and not only did I eat it, I liked it. A lot. I’m still amazed.

    I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t bet any money, hm?

  9. Terri Mayson
    April 13, 2006 | 5:41 pm

    You’ve convinced me. I’m all over the baccala’. We’ll try Cantinone since we’ll be at the Pensione Accademia. Only 21 more days!

  10. Nova
    September 10, 2009 | 10:02 pm

    Baccala is so great we cook back home in Dubrovnik at chrismas and st. augustines day it just tastes great a wonderful dish

  11. Bacala recipes | ThalabyhalabyLaw
    March 10, 2011 | 2:59 pm

    […] Baccala’ Mantecato | livingVENICESome recipes stop there, others add garlic and Italian parsley. Don’t ask me to explain who serves it how; every time I ask anyone from expert on down I … The bacala I have ever had was at Le Colline Ciociare in Acuto. It was their rendition of bacala mantecato. Acuto is adjacent to Fiuggi about 50 miles south of Rome. […]

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