Cultural Memories of Norwegian Bacalao

Miami chef Michelle Bernstein shares her favorite food memories of Norwegian Bacalao, a fish that transcends cultures and cuisines.

Norwegian Bacalao, otherwise known as salt cod, is an ingredient prized by chefs and home cooks across cultures for its flavor and versatility. In this guest post, Chef Michelle Bernstein, a Miami native of Latin and Jewish heritage, shares her experiences cooking and eating bacalao, from her mother’s kitchen to her own.

The first time I had Norwegian Bacalao, I was about eight years old. I saw a beautiful picture of a salt cod terrine with peppers and tomatoes in a magazine and, even though it was a somewhat complicated recipe, asked my mom to try to replicate it. It came out so great that it became a staple of our holiday table.

Today, one of my favorite ways to enjoy Norwegian Bacalao is in my croquetas: fried, crispy, creamy nuggets of love. The first chef I ever worked for was Caribbean and my croquetas are a nod to his own salt cod fritters, which I first tasted decades ago. My other favorite way to use bacalao is in the Jamaican dish of salt fish and ackee. Ackee is the national fruit of Jamaica and has a texture similar to eggs when cooked, making the dish kind of like bacalao and eggs. It’s absolutely delicious and surprising in its flavors and textures.

Bacalao is an ingredient you can find all over South Florida, from our Spanish and Caribbean restaurants to home dinner tables all over Miami. It’s a big part of our Latin and Caribbean heritage and appears on our Christmas menus, in dishes at local bars, and even as a beach snack.

Norwegian Bacalao is one of the most versatile ingredients you can keep in your pantry. Soaking for just a couple of days in your fridge will give you a perfectly preserved fish that’s never dry or oily, and melds beautifully into a variety of recipes. Many ingredients go well with Norwegian Bacalao: tomatoes, chiles, garlic, corn, eggs, potatoes, peppers, capers, squid and chorizo, to name a few. Whether it’s being used delicately in a French dish or with more punch in Latin and Caribbean cuisines, the uses of Norwegian Bacalao are endless. And of course, it pairs well with any of your favorite drinks or cocktails!

I’ve been using bacalao since I first started cooking and continue to use it to enhance flavors in appetizers, pastas, breakfasts or even plain on a tostada! It’s delicious and blends well with so many things but, most importantly, it reminds me of being at home, cooking with my mom.