Arroz con bacalao: rice and salted cod, welcome to Panama!
Cod is one of the most consumed fish in the world. In many countries, there is no part of the cod that is thrown away: in Africa, and especially in Nigeria, the head of cod is boiled with peppercorns and red pepper to enrich the dish.
In Norway, the tongue is considered a delicacy and the eggs, salted, smoked and spiced, are sold in northern European countries as a caviar.
Everywhere, the liver, from which we get the famous cod liver oil and other enzymes are used to obtain enzymes used in the pharmaceutical industry.
Cod is a fish that usually measures about 6 feet. It can sometimes weigh more than 100 lb. For thousands of years, huge shoals from the icy waters of the most populated area north of the earth, have been moving towards more temperate seas to lay their eggs.
The best environment to see the breeding of cod is along the coasts of Norway’s Vestfjord, especially in the waters around the Lofoten Islands.
It is a miracle of nature that cods leave their natural habitat and travel to the Lofoten Islands to reproduce when the frost retreats to give way to the wind, rain and sun, which have the task of turning them into an excellent stockfish.
Mike, who has recently enjoyed his Portuguese recipe of bolinhos de bacalhau, shred with us everything about the history of this famous stockfish.
More generally, this treasure that is typical of the northern seas, is widespread throughout the continental area of the North Atlantic Ocean: from southern Biscay to Nova Scotia, and on the American side from the Labrador coast to Terranova (Canada).
Panama, which means “land of fish” or “place of many fish” in the Cueva language, is a paradise between the Atlantic and the Pacific that has a lot to offer: wonders of nature, beautiful architecture, ancient traditions and… delicious food!
The ethnic cuisine of Panama is as diverse and rich as the heritage of this country. There are a number of great dishes that show the influence of the European, American, Spanish, Asian and African populations in this country.
The most typical dish in Panama is the sancocho de galina, a chicken broth with pieces of meat, cassava, plantains and other tubers, all flavored with cilantro. Other typical dishes include arroz con pollo, a rice dish with chicken, or carimañolas that are cassava meatballs stuffed with meat, as well as empanadas or tamales. You will also find patacones, fried slices of plantains.
The recaito that is used for this cod rice recipe is the sofrito version of the islands of Puerto Rico and surrounding areas that serves as a base for arroz con bacalao. Sofrito is the tomato mixture used to cook paella. Mike had posted a similar recipe from the Dominican Republic made from rice and fish … but that time, he had used canned sardines in tomato sauce to flavor his locrio de pica pica.
Recaito or sofrito
Technically speaking, they are called recaito or sofrito, but they are not even a recipe or a dish, but more of a cooking method. This explains why there are so many variations based on social and cultural factors. Flavor and ingredient preferences differ by country or island. The Dominican sofrito, called sazon, uses vinegar for a punch of flavor and annatto oil for color. Cuban sofrito uses tomatoes and red peppers for sweetness and added color, and also includes diced ham. Mexico‘s Yucatan region, bordering the Caribbean, has its own version of sofrito that uses habaneros for a spicy kick.
Sofrito is consumed in different ways, with as many ways as preparation methods. This is usually the first thing that is added into a pot. It can be slightly sautéed to bring out the flavors of the herbs just like for our recipe today. But sometimes, in other recipes, sofrito is only added at the end of cooking, and it is also sometimes used as a side sauce for grilled meats and fish.
It is common to find similar techniques of sofrito in France, called mirepoix, and in Italy, where it is called soffrito or battuto. Portugal has a version called refogado. The Spaniards took the technique to their colonies across Latin America, where it is still called sofrito, and in the Philippines, where it is called ginisa.
This dish features recaito, salted cod but also the main food of more than half of the world’s population: rice! The same rice that has been cultivated in China for 7,000 years and has more than 140,000 different varieties, each with different cooking times and flavors!
For this arroz con bacalao, we did a very nice job with our 4 hands, those of Mike and myself for the preparation of this delicious recipe that we both loved!
- 2 cups rice (preferably short or medium grain rice, for paella or arborio for risotto)
- ½ lb salted cod , chopped
- 2 tablespoons achiote oil or olive oil
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 2 cups recaito (recipe below)
- 1 clove garlic , minced
- 1 pinch saffron
- Black pepper
- 1 green bell pepper , seeded and sliced
- 1 green hot chili pepper , seeded and sliced
- 1 onion , cut into strips
- 5 cloves garlic , peeled
- ½ bunch cilantro
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Prepare salt cod (see below).
- Infuse the saffron in a a couple tablespoons of boiling water.
- Saute recaito and garlic in achiote oil or olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes.
- Add cod and capers and continue to cook for 5 minutes.
- Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat.
- Reduce heat to simmer and cook for 10 minutes.
- While the mixture is simmering, rinse the rice until the water runs clear.
- Add the rice, stir and reduce heat to medium.
- Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes.
- Cut salt cod into blocks and put them in a colander.
- Immerse the colander into a large container filled with water.
- Soak for up to 24 hours, changing the water as often as possible.
- Chop all ingredients in a food processor