There are certain foods that stimulate the brain like a night in downtown Tokyo (with it’s neon glitter and masses of humanity). For us, stockfish or pesce stocco, the native Calabrian dish (specifically from the region around Cittanova) triggers tremendoud food memories of my grandmother Rosa and her basement kitchen in New Jersey.
Pesce stocco, the dried not salted cod fish, is often confused with baccalà which is dried salted cod fish. The Normans brought both variants of preserved cod fish to southern Italy by 1130 and they’ve remained popular food items to this day.
Cod is not native to the waters surrounding Italy and is often sourced via Scandinavia. Dried and/or preserved cod has long been a staple in southern Italy cuisine. In fact, for the Italians south of Rome or the mezzogiorno(i.e., Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Apulia, Molise, Abruzzo, Sicilia, and Sardinia) cod is king.
Pesce stocco is a whole cod dried until extremely hard. Reconstituting whole dried cod takes between 7-10 days with frequent transferring of fresh water. Our favorite way to prepare pesce stocco is with parsley, wedges of potato, and tomato passato.
The dish was once prepared in terracotta pots, where it simmered for 2-3 hours, but is now prepared on the stovetop in a metal pot or pan.
- 1 whole unsalted air dried cod fish (cut into 2.5-3.5 inch pieces)
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2-3 pieces of celery
- 2-3 medium sized carrots
- 1 bunch of parsley
- 10-15 green olives
- 2-3 large potatoes (cut into 2 inch wedges)
- 1 jar of passato
- Extra virgin olive oil
- ½ large red onion (diced finely)
- Dried red chile pepper flake (optional)
- Wash the baccalà well under running water and leave to soak in plenty of cool water in a large container, changing the water morning and night (we often do this in a cool basement). The process takes between 8-10 total days depending on the size of cod. Note: the whole dried cod will contain bones and they will need to be removed (usually after the first day of soaking).
- Dry the cod well with clean paper towels and set aside. In a large pan, add the diced onion, garlic, carrot, celery, olive oil and saute for 10-15 minutes. Add the passato and green olives and cook for 20 minutes (season well with Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper). Add the pieces of fish, potato, and red pepper flakes and cook for 30-35 minutes or until the potatoes and fish are tender. Add chopped parsley during the last few minutes of the cooking process. If needed, add fresh extra virgin olive oil.
What is the consistency of the stocco you end up with? Can you compare it to baccala? Have you ever had lutfisk?
stocci is a bit softer. Baccala more firm. I haven’t had lutfisk – what is it?
Lutfisk starts with unsalted air dried cod fish (stockfish) that is reconstituted by soaking in a lye solution and then rinsed (an abbreviated description). Lutfisk means “lyefish”. The lye soaking gives it a different flavor and consistency – loved by some and reviled by many.
Lye soaking is quicker than water soaking but is touchy and, if overdone, will turn the fish to soap.
I am Swedish-Italian and the Swedes won – we occasionally had lutfisk but it was not very good. When I ran across some commercially-prepared pre-soaked lutfisk, I bought it and finally figured out how to cook it…superb.
Last year I tried cooking some baccala for the first time…superb also.
Locally, salt cod and pre-soaked lutfisk are available but stockfish is not
The drying and/or salting methods of preserving these fish originated over a thousand years ago in the North Atlantic and Baltic peoples and the preserved products were spread by the Viking traders, or so it is supposed. The recipes probably then evolved locally.
So, I suppose if you start with stockfish and reconstitute it in fresh water you end up with stocco and if you reconstitute it in lye solution you end up with lutfisk.