Arroz con Bacalao

published Sep 15, 2021
Arroz con Bacalao Recipe

Salted Cod fish is a staple in Puerto Rican Households and when cooked with Rice, you get delicious and comforting Arroz con Bacalao.

Serves4 to 6

Prep20 minutes

Cook35 minutes to 45 minutes

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Overhead photo of plate with rice, cod, plantain tostones, and salad sitting on gold/yellow table with gold and white napkin. Bowl with sliced avocado in upper right. Pepper mill and glass of white wine
Credit: Photo: Amber Gress; Food Styling: Krystal Rack; Prop Styling: Vanessa Vazquez

Bacalao (salted cod fish) is a kitchen staple in Puerto Rican households. It’s often used in cold salads; stewed with a savory tomato sauce and served with boiled root vegetables; battered and fried for bacalaitos, a common street food; or cooked with rice to make delicious, comforting arroz con bacalao.

Bacalao, an ingredient that’s near and dear to my heart, is either loved or hated by kids throughout the diaspora because of its strong flavor. If you’ve cooked with it, you know that simmering it to remove the salt has a tendency to stink up your house, but I opted for the overnight soaking method here to avoid all of that.

When I was growing up, I always helped my mom with dinners. On occasional evenings I’d be given the task of changing out the bacalao bowl, pouring out the salty water and refilling it with a fresh bath so we could use the fish the next day.

Credit: Photo: Amber Gress; Food Styling: Krystal Rack; Prop Styling: Vanessa Vazquez

It All Starts with Sofrito

Included with the arroz con bacalao is a quick recipe for a small batch of sofrito, an herbaceous, aromatic seasoning blend that’s the foundation of many Puerto Rican dishes. It might seem a little involved, but it comes together quickly with the help of a food processor or blender and keeps for up to six months in the freezer. Think of this frozen sofrito as an introduction to Puerto Rican cuisine that you’ll have in your kitchen for future savory recipes likes stews, soups, beans, and more. I’d suggest making the sofrito first so you get that process completed and out of the way before you move on to the rice dish itself.

Traditionally, salt pork or cubed ham is used in many Puerto Rican rice dishes as a base for rendering fat to sauté sofrito in, but I opted for bacon here to get a hint of smokiness with the rice. The bacalao is added to the sofrito and onion mixture, then in goes the rice for a little toasting, followed by some water and a bay leaf. Bring the rice to a boil, give it a stir, take the heat down to a simmer, and cover the pot for about 20 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and dinner’s done! Pair the rice with a simple green salad, sliced ripe avocado, and tostones (twice-fried plantains). I like to enjoy my plate with an ice-cold beer, which makes me feel like I’m right back on the island.

Arroz con Bacalao Recipe

Salted Cod fish is a staple in Puerto Rican Households and when cooked with Rice, you get delicious and comforting Arroz con Bacalao.

Prep time 20 minutes

Cook time 35 minutes to 45 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces

    boneless, skinless bacalao (salted cod fish)

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 4 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 1/2 cups

    long-grain white rice

  • 2 tablespoons

    rendered bacon fat, plus more as needed

  • 1 tablespoon

    fresh sofrito (see recipe below)

  • 3 cups

    water

  • 1

    large bay leaf

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

For the fresh Puerto Rican sofrito:

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 1/2

    medium green bell pepper

  • 1/2

    medium red bell pepper

  • 1 bunch

    fresh cilantro

  • 3

    medium scallions

  • 2

    medium ají dulce peppers (optional)

  • 1/4 cup

    packed culantro (optional)

  • 6 large cloves

    garlic

  • 1 large pinch

    sazón seasoning, such as Badia

Instructions

  1. Place 8 ounces bacalao in a large bowl and cover in cold water. Refrigerate, changing out the water 2 or 3 times, overnight.

  2. Drain the bacalao and rinse under cold water. Dice the bacalao and discard any bones if present. Finely dice 1 medium yellow onion. Finely grate or mince 4 garlic cloves (about 1 tablespoon). Place 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice in a fine-mesh strainer and rinse.

  3. Heat 2 tablespoons bacon fat in a medium pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until melted and shimmering. Add the onion, season with kosher salt, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until slightly translucent, 3 to 7 minutes.

  4. Add 1 tablespoon fresh sofrito and sauté until very fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes. (If using a frozen sofrito cube, combine everything as the cube is melting and cook for 7 to 8 minutes.) Add the bacalao and stir to combine. Increase heat to medium-high and sauté until the edges of the fish are slightly crispy, about 4 minutes.

  5. Add the garlic and rice and cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are coated in the mixture and the rice smells toasted, about 1 minute. Add 3 cups water, 1 large bay leaf, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Stir to combine. Taste the liquid and add more kosher salt as needed, but remember, the cod is cured and salted so you won’t need much here.

  6. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the water is evaporated and you see little bubble pockets in the pot. Stir the rice, folding it onto itself. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook undisturbed until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Taste and season with more kosher salt as needed. Serve with a simple green salad, sliced ripe avocado, and tostones (twice-fried plantains).

Make the fresh Puerto Rican sofrito:

  1. Prepare the following, placing each in a food processor or blender as you complete it: Coarsely chop 1 medium yellow onion. Trim and coarsely chop 1/2 medium green bell pepper and 1/2 medium red bell pepper. Coarsely chop until you have 1 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems. Trim and coarsely chop 3 medium scallions. If desired, trim and coarsely chop 2 medium aji dulce peppers; coarsely chop until you have 1/4 packed culantro leaves and tender stems if desired.

  2. Add 6 large garlic cloves and 1 large pinch sazón seasoning. Process, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons water if needed, to create a sauce similar to pesto or blended salsa.

Recipe Notes

About the sofrito ingredients: Ajices are small sweet peppers, similar in appearance to habaneros but not spicy at all. Culantro is cilantro’s dramatic cousin, stronger in flavor and often sold as recao or sawtooth herb in most markets. These definitely add an extra kick of flavor to sofrito, but no worries if you aren’t able to find them.

For the bacon fat: If you don’t have rendered bacon fat on hand, simply cook a few slices of your favorite bacon and reserve the fat for the rice. You can crumble the bacon to add to the rice while cooking.

Storage: The sofrito can be refrigerated for up to 5 days, or portioned into ice cube trays or containers and frozen for up to 6 months. Leftover arroz con bacalao can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.