Potaje de Vigilia

potaje de vigilia

Potaje de Vigilia is a very popular Spanish dish, containing chickpeas and bacalao (salt cod), served on the Fridays during Lent. The word potaje translates directly from the old French pottage, meaning cooked in a pot – the English translation is potage (unsurprisingly). Vigilia means vigil – a time of wakefulness, watching or ritual observance.  A potage can contain meat or fish and sometimes just vegetables. The consistency can be that of soup, stew or porridge. Originally potage came from Northern France, gaining in popularity throughout the Middle Ages. The English 14th Century cookbook – The Forme of Cury, contains several recipes for potage and the Catalan Llibre de Coch (probably written between 1458 and 1494) contains potatge recipes for all the religious feast days. A potager, from the French jardin potager, is a traditional kitchen garden – where the vegetable ingredients for potage would come from …and a potting shed, is a wooden structure in the kitchen garden, where a man goes to hide when he’s upset his wife!

Recipes for this fasting soup vary between families, towns and regions. I found one in Spanish Cooking by Elizabeth Cass, called Potage Madrileño (Madrid Potage, a Soup for Fast Days), containing chilli and saffron, and another from Asturias called a Potaje de Garbanzos y Espinacas (chickpea and spinach potage) which doesn’t contain cod. Claudia Roden similarly has one without cod, called Garbanzos de Vigilia where some of the ingredients are mashed to make a thick porridge. Other related chickpea stews can be found outside of Lent, typically Cocido Madrileño, which contains bacon, beef and chorizo.


Chickpea and stock recipe:

300g dry chickpeas
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic (peeled)
2 carrots
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
a few black peppercorns

Soak the chickpeas overnight, for about 12 hours.

olla a presión

Cook the chickpeas in a pressure cooker for about 25 minutes, with 2 carrots, 2 bay leaves, a few black peppercorns and an onion studded with 2 cloves. The water should cover the chickpeas by about the same volume – i.e. if the chickpeas are 2 cm high, the water should be 2cm above that. Allow the pressure to release naturally.

If you wish to cheat, use 2 tins of cooked chickpeas and a carton (1 litre) of vegetable or chicken stock.

Potaje de Vigilia recipe (serves 4):

500g bacalao (or fresh cod)
1 large onion (chopped)
6 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
1 tomato (grated)
600g (cooked chickpeas)
200g spinach
chickpea stock
1 teaspoon pimentón de la Vera dulce
2 splashes sherry vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
2 hard boiled eggs (to serve)
sea salt and cracked black (pepper to taste)

Desalinate the bacalao for 36 hours, or use fresh cod. If using fresh, sprinkle on some salt about 1 hour before cooking and allow to come to room temperature out of the fridge.


Gently poach the onions in olive oil until they become sticky.


Stir in the garlic and grate on the tomato (cut in half, shred the wet side and throw away the skin).


Sprinkle with the pimentón.

garbanzos con caldo

Add the chickpeas and cooking liquid to the onions. Discard the cloves and black peppercorns, then squash the carrots and onion with a mortar and pestle – stir the mash into the potaje, along with some sherry vinegar.


Wash and remove the stems from the spinach.

espinacas al vapor

Chop or tear the spinach a little (to break it up) before adding to the pan.

espinacas marchitas

Cover with a lid or foil and allow the spinach to steam on top of the soup (5 – 10 minutes). When wilted mix in.


Picada recipe:

7 shelled hazelnuts (toasted slightly in a frying pan)
1 slice brown sourdough bread (toasted or fried)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 hard boiled egg yolk
2 splashes sherry vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
a pinch of coarse sea salt


Grind up the picada ingredients to make a thick paste with a mortar and pestle – drizzle in the olive oil to bind.

agente espesante

Stir the picada into the potage – this acts as a thickener and flavour enhancer.


Check the seasoning and adjust to taste.

bacalao crudo

Chop or break the bacalao into bit sized pieces and put them on top of the soup. Do not stir – shake or rotate the pan instead. This stops the bacalao breaking up.

bacalao cocido

Cover and allow to cook until firm (about 5 minutes).

potaje de vigilia

Cut the 2 remaining hard boiled eggs into quarters and arrange them on top of the potage. Sprinkle on a little chopped spinach or parsley for decoration. The Potaje de Vigilia is typically placed in the middle of the table – family members help themselves.

I recommend drinking a glass of La Misión (the Mission) a suitably pious Verdejo from Valladolid, to go with the Potaje de Vigilia.

About Mad Dog

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19 Responses to Potaje de Vigilia

  1. That looks delicious…hope you keeping well

  2. Eha says:

    I am in a new world and delighted to be here. Altho’ I neither follow Lent or Easter as a religious holiday I hope to still be allowed to partake 🙂 ! And I am so looking forwards to looking up your links ! Do not use a pressure cooker but stovetop for the chickpeas will do fine . . . the fish will probably be fresh and I absolutely love your picada . . . and the final look on the table – thank you !. . .

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Eha – ! think the dish has transcended religion and become a national treasure in many forms. They definitely didn’t have pressure cookers in the 14th Century, tough they are very popular in Spain now. Many recipes cleverly time things, so that it’s all cooked in one pot and each item is cooked to perfection.

  3. stefano says:

    excellent post and recipe. will now check all the links. I particularly like the idea of a vegetable potage, like chickpeas and spinach (maybe saffron?). good work here, thanks

  4. I will definitely try this. I love how you break down the cooking process into simple steps with photos – makes it so much easier to follow. Thank you!

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Fiona – it’s good to hear from you! I know what you mean, especially with older recipes, where they have all the ingredients lumped together and a single paragraph of instructions. The recipe I liked above for Stefano, is an Andalucian Potaje de Vigilia.

  5. Janet Mendel says:

    The addition of the Catalan picada with hazelnuts is brilliant. I’m working on my annual homage to bacalao, too.

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Janet – I meant to do a picada with hazelnuts last year, as it’s very Catalan, but I ate them by mistake. I should try it with chestnuts – I’m sure they’d be good.

  6. Ron says:

    A very interesting read. We love a good soup or stew and as it’s still chilly over this way your Potaje de Vigilia looks and sounds divine. However, it will have to be fresh cod as bacalao is hard to come by in these parts. The picada poses a bit of a problem as we can’t do nuts. Do you think pumpkin seed or pine nuts would work?

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Ron – there’s not a huge difference between fresh cod and bacalao. Bacalao has slightly more flavour and a firmer texture, relative to the salting. This recipe contains pine nuts, though I don’t think he’s properly worked out how to make a picada. Pine nuts are perfect because they become floury when ground up, they add flavour and thickness.

  7. Conor Bofin says:

    A true delight MD. I admire the method. All very logical and a lovely “build”.

  8. Sounds delicious, Mad Dog! I’m intrigued by the picada towards the end. Interesting mix of flavors. How would you describe it, if it’s possible to describe…

    • Mad Dog says:

      Thanks Frank – the picada is very Catalan and it’s closest relative could be pesto. The purpose of the picada is to thicken and boost the flavour at the end of cooking, so it should be added about 5 minutes before serving. It’s a bit like adjusting the seasoning at the end, but it also introduces uncooked garlic and nuts. Think garlic, vinegar, nuts, herbs. It’s a good idea not to season everything too much early on, though all seasonings mellow after cooking for an hour or so.

  9. Pingback: Garbanzos con Espinacas | Mad Dog TV Dinners

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