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.
- 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)
- 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.