A Roundabout Route to Baccalà Mantecato

My local Vallarta Mexican grocery store never ceases to surprise and amaze me.

First of all, it’s just darned cool to have a market that actually feels — smells, sounds, visuals — like you are in Mexico. And in that regard, I have yet to need a Mexican cooking ingredient that I can’t find there.

Secondly, I find countless ingredients I need for other cuisines — the fine tripe they have, for example, that I need (yes, need) for trippa alla Romana, and a dazzling variety of fresh herbs.

Newfoundland salt cod illustration from the 1700s

A recent happy discovery was baccalà, also known as bacalao, also known as salt cod — not something I ever associated with Mexican cooking. In the past, I’ve had to travel to a Spanish purveyor in Harbor City (a heck of a drive to non-Angelenos) or wait until I’m in San Francisco to visit North Beach’s famous deli, Molinari, to get some. Not only does Vallarta have beautiful European baccala, but it’s considerably less expensive than at either of those other places.

One of my favorites among many delicious salt cod preparations is the Venetian puree called “baccalà mantecato,” one of that city’s signature cicchetti, or small tasty plates you get at wine bars. It’s a rich, silky puree of cod, garlic and olive oil that is spread on crusty bread. It’s so good that even my wife, who generally dislikes salted fishy-tasting things, craves it.

Topanga baccalà mantecato from the 2017s

I made a batch recently for an appetizer I was asked to bring to a dinner party, and saved a little to stuff inside black cuttlefish-ink ravioli served with gooey marscapone-filled fried zucchini blossoms for a dinner party I was hosting at our house the following evening. For the away party, as a variation on the theme, I had an inspiration to try a little scoop on top of homemade potato chips rather than bread. Both the chips and the ravioli were divine and the subject of much praise and discussion.

There’s not reason for you to wait until you’re invited to a dinner party, or throwing one yourself, to make this. I’m pretty sure even your picky children, bless their little hearts, will like it — especially if you refocus their attention on the little bit of potato in the dish.

Typically, salt cod is soaked in several changes of water over the course of a day or two. But if you have a thinner piece of cod, only half a day is necessary. Or overnight for a thick piece. I find a little salt left in the cod makes for a tastier mantecato.


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Baccalà Mantecato
serves 4-6 as an appetizer

1/2 lb. salt cod
1 small potato, 3-4 oz., peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
4 large garlic cloves
fresh ground black pepper
1 loaf crusty ciabatta-type bread

Soak the salt cod as described above, half a day to overnight depending on thickness. Cook the potato in boiling water until soft, and let cool. (This can be done ahead of time.)

Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil, and cook the salt cod 3-5 minutes, until firm and cooked through. Remove from water and let cool.

Place a small piece of foil in a toaster oven or regular oven at 420 degrees, and roast three of the garlic cloves (unpeeled) until soft and golden, 8-10 minutes. Remove skins and set aside. Peel other garlic clove and crush.

In a food processor, place the salt cod, potato and both roasted and raw garlic and puree until smooth. Drizzle in the olive oil as the machine runs until the mantecato is smooth and creamy. Remove from the processor, and stir in ground pepper to taste.

Slice bread thickly and either grill or toast. Spread with baccala and serve.


Eating Oaxaca

Oaxaca, they say, is the culinary capital of Mexico. I was eager to put this to the test.

I am still digesting Mexico City tacos when we arrive and check into our hotel. But my pal Mike rouses me from a brief respite on my bed that could’ve easily turned into an evening in, and we are soon walking the beautiful historic streets of the old center of Oaxaca city. More

When Mike Goes to Mexico

My pal Mike likes to taunt me with photos and videos of his business trips to Mexico, which are frequent. See, if you haven’t been paying attention to previous posts, his business is Mexico — mezcal, that is: Del Maguey, the best in the world.

Mike in Mexico

Mike in Mexico

His provocations are most often in the form of eyewitness video accounts of parades in Oaxaca, where there seems to always be a parade in progress, or photos of voluptuous window mannequins with whom he is certain I am a perfect romantic match. More

Tacotopia, Episode #5 — In Praise of Leftovers

Leftover steak is always a welcome thing in our home. It’s uses are many, beyond simply having tasty leftover steak in the fridge: Vietnamese beef salad or spring rolls, pasta Bolognese, steak sandwiches… And, perhaps most deliciously of all, tacos.

The taco

The taco

Even under normal circumstances, I’m always on the hunt for new taco inspiration. This particular day, in addition to the leftover steak, I had some roasted pasilla chiles in the fridge. An exceptional combination, thought I — especially with the addition of some slices mushrooms and monterrey jack cheese. More

In the Mexican Kitchen

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It all started, as it often does, with a big chunk of pork.


Pork shoulder, that is — my favorite cut. It was on sale at the grocery store, so I bought it, thinking I might prepare something Mexican. Maybe carnitas, maybe chile verde, maybe cochinita pibil. More

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