the brandada lady

the brandada lady

December 12th, 2012

No trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to the Brandada Lady,  who sells salt cod in the Boqueria. There are lots of salt cod (bacalao) stalls in the market, but this lady is always very cheerful and her fish is very good.



Salting fish to preserve it dates as far back as the Vikings and Phoenicians. Cod in particular was plentiful in the Atlantic and could be gutted and salted on board ship, before being dried on wooden frames when the fishermen returned home. Bacalao can be kept for several years in its dry form.

Having been introduced to Spain by the Basques in the 16th century, bacalao became a staple food, since in those days cod was cheap and stocks were vast. Fishermen and shepherds alike could carry big pieces of the dried fish with them, which could be reconstituted in water when needed. Bacalao became so common that it was often referred to as “poor man’s fish”. Today, it would seem, that a considerable amount of salt cod comes from Iceland and Norway, rather than being produced in Spain.

soaking the salt cod

soaking the salt cod

To cook with bacalao, it must be soaked in water, generally for 24 hours, with about 3 changes of water to remove the salt. Thick pieces can take 36 – 48 hours. Here you can see salt cod soaking on the bacalao stall – you can buy it dry or ready to cook.

Sadly with the collapse in cod stocks in recent years, the price of bacalao has rocketed, it’s  become an expensive luxury food instead of a staple. However, it’s such an important part of Spanish food culture, that it’s still quite popular in spite of the price.



I particularly went to buy some brandada – a coarse purée of reconstituted salt cod, garlic and olive oil (some recipes call for boiled, riced potatoes too). It’s delicious served on fresh bread or toast. I believe that Oli named the Brandada Lady after her exceptionally high quality brandada!



I also bought a little piece of mojama to take home. Mojama is tuna loin, salted for 2 or 3 days and then washed before air drying in the sunshine. This style of drying tuna dates back to the Phoenicians, but the name mojama comes from the Arabic musama, to dry.

Mojama is served, sliced very thin, on a piece of bread with a drizzle of olive oil. The taste and texture is a bit like a cross between ham and tuna. It’s reassuringly expensive at 45€ per kilo!

About Mad Dog
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64 Responses to Bacalao

  1. If Big Man could eat bacalao every day, I swear he would! He loves it when we visit Portugal as they supposdely have 365 ways of cooking it – a different way each day 🙂 Must buy some mojama for Christmas, although not everyone likes it as it´s quite a strong flavour (I love it!)

    • Mad Dog says:

      School dinners nearly put me off fish for life, let alone cod! Now I could eat masses of bacalao (I love the smell of it cooking with garlic) and good brandada is to die for. Astonishingly, I hadn’t tried mojama until this year – now I want to eat it far more frequently than I can get it 😉

  2. I Love salt cod, and one of my favourite ways to enjoy it is in a Brandade, also big fan of Mojama, but not easy to get hold of it here. Great post, bringing back lots of taste memories.

  3. Conor Bofin says:

    Bizzarre as it may seem, my fishmonger put out a tweet yesterday saying that they had salt cod in. I hope there is some left on Saturday because I want to try it. Great bit of fish education MD. I appreciate it.

  4. I’ve been catching up.. I didn’t even know you were in Barcelona! How fantastic is that?! I’ve never tried this salted cod, I’d love to. I think it’s such a sign that the stock is so diminished..

  5. ChgoJohn says:

    We Bartolini are taught that heaven is a place where baccala is always available. Maybe they were talking about Barcelona? We never were good with directions. 🙂

  6. Eha says:

    Oh my, what IS wrong with my palate? Had a lovely gentle Portuguese lady as a housekeeper for years way back! She must have just about tried every family bacalau recipe on us and the marriage was not made in heaven?! With all of you foodies so praising the fish [oh, it is easily available Down Under] just perhaps I should try again: so, garlic and olive oil? . . . 🙂 !

  7. Tessa says:

    I’ve never tried salt cod before… If I ever see it, I will be sure to try it.

  8. When I was in some African country, I bought some bacalao through the mail so that I could make chiquetaille Truly gourmet salted cod!

    • Mad Dog says:

      It looks like you did it justice and you’ve demonstrated how useful salting cod is or was, by the fact that it can be sent in the mail. I suspect that the chiquetaille can itself last for quite a while with the vinegar and olive oil content – great post 🙂

  9. Two of my very favourite things, although I haven’t eaten mojama for a while now. I remember a little Portuguese grocery, just before the bridge in Golbourne Grove, which had a wooden sawhorse by the counter, with a big silver saw leaning against it, for cutting up the huge pieces of bacalao that were stacked in the back of the shop.

    • Mad Dog says:

      It might still be there – a lot of those little shops have resisted big business so far. The little lunchtime hot food stalls are still doing very well, so much so that one of them was on the Food Programme recently 🙂

  10. Karen says:

    Bacalao has always been a traditional dish for Christmas eve with my husband’s family. We usually soak it, then boil it and turn it into a salad with lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and seasonings.

  11. Fantastico post, MD. Muy instructivo! 🙂

  12. cecilia says:

    I think ChgJohn did a post on salted fish a long time ago, I have never tried it, probably from growing up in a fishing town where the fish is always fresh .. have a lovely christmas day Mad! c

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Cecilia 🙂
      Salt cod is an old fashioned thing in many countries since the advent of refrigeration, but some have developed such amazing recipes, that the tradition has continued. Salting white fish does make the flesh firmer – it’s good to add a little salt to fresh white fish an hour or two before cooking to tighten it up and reduce the water content too.
      Merry Christmas to you and all your family 🙂

  13. Hotly Spiced says:

    I’ve never been to Barcelona but I would love to go there. It’s amazing how much soaking has to be done to get rid of the salt – you’d have to be organised and plan ahead! I don’t know what happened to the ‘like’ button on my blog. It was there and now it’s gone. Something else to sort out! xx

  14. I love bacalao, but of course do it in very Caribbean ways. This holiday I will be working on bacalaitos…cod fritters….I keep meaning to create a good appetizer to go with fizzy, but not yet….Keep the inspiration coming!
    A heartfelt happy holiday to you!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Natalia! I think it’s hard to beat blinis with caviar or smoked salmon and sour cream. We had some lovely pastrami on bagel chips, with a mustard sauce on Christmas Day this year 🙂

  15. narf77 says:

    Centuries of tinkering renders even the most humble of ingredients luxurious and I would imagine that was what happened with this salt cod. I love tradition and the imbibing of food traditions is second only to the cooking of food traditions. It gives you a sense of continuity that nothing else does, passed from long dead hands down to the living and then on to the next generation…you can live forever in a recipe 🙂

    • Mad Dog says:

      I’m very much in favour of holding on to old food tradition, especially preservation methods before refrigeration, which have produced things like tapenade, duck confit and ham.
      I could probably live on brandada forever 😉

      • narf77 says:

        As a vegan, I won’t be eating brandada but I do hold tradition close to my heart and love preserving. I was watching one of those extreme survivalist shows the other day with those Americans who are prepping for the end of the world and one woman had meatloaf and mashed potatoes in jars as she didn’t want to miss out come the revolution! Now THAT is taking preservation to extremes 😉

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