Baccala alla Napoletana (Salted Cod Neapolitan Style) has a fishy history. Naples was ruled by the Spanish in the seventeenth century, and so this recipe became part of Spanish and Portuguese cuisine. The tomatoes were brought to Naples by the Spanish, becoming part of Italian food from that ancient port city. The cod was a product of trade between Spain and the rest of Europe for well over two thousand years. It appears in recipes from Scandanavia to Africa, and as far west as California. Heavily salted, it could travel well, much like our beef jerky.

Baccala alla Napoletana

Baccala became a favorite of Catholic Europe for Christmas Eve, for some reason lost to the annals of culinary history. In Naples, Spain and Portugal, among other places, it remains a traditional favorite. Be prepared though, this will have a strong fishy odor that will permeate everything for days, though the flavor is exceptional.

Start making this the day before Christmas Eve to serve that day.

Baccala alla Napoletana
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4 to 6
For the baccalà:
  • 2 pounds baccalà (dried salt cod)
  • flour
  • olive oil
For the sauce:
  • 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • a few sprigs of fresh parsley, stems removed and finely chopped
  • olive oil
  • 1 pound fresh tomatoes, peeled and seed, or canned
  • a handful each of capers and olives, preferably of the Gaeta or Niçoise variety
To finish the dish:
  • a few sprigs of fresh parsley, stems removed and finely chopped
  1. You begin by soaking the salt cod for up to 24 hours in several changes of water. Do this at least four times. Finally, drain the reconstituted cod, pat it dry, and cut it into serving pieces.
  2. Now make your sauce, in a skillet or flame-proof baking pan, by very lightly sautéing a soffritto of chopped garlic and parsley in olive oil until it just begins to give off it fragrance. Immediately add roughly chopped very ripe tomatoes (or, the in winter, canned tomatoes) and simmer gently. When the tomatoes start to melt into a sauce, toss in a handful each of capers—preferably the salt-packed kind, rinsed and dried—and olives—preferably the small black Gaeta or Niçoise variety.
  3. While the sauce is simmering, lightly flour and fry your baccalà pieces in olive oil until they are lightly browned. As they brown, transfer them to the pan or skillet with the sauce. When all the baccalà has been added to the sauce, take a spoon and nap a bit of the simmering sauce over the fish pieces.
  4. Now you have a choice: you can continue simmering the dish over the stove, or you can place the dish in a hot oven (200°C, 400°F) for 10-15 minutes, until the sauce has reduced to a nice consistency. I like the oven method, as serving the baccalà direct from its baking dish makes for an attractive presentation at table.
  5. Remove the dish from the oven, sprinkle with a bit more chopped parsley for color, and serve with some nice, crusty bread.
If you prefer a softer texture to your Baccalà alla Napoletana, poach the codfish pieces for five minutes or so, drain and let them cool off before flouring and frying them.


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