Bacalao has become one of the most popular fish dishes in Norway during the last years. The dish as we know it is connected with special Norwegian recipes , a stockfish-pot that consists of stockfish, olives, tomatoes, onions and pepper.

Original this is a savoury and spicy dish, and represents one of many thousand ways to prepare stockfish and salted cod, but is the traditional Norwegian way of doing it.

Today you can order it in the absolute finest restaurants, but earlier it was more of a low cost everyday-meal.

A Norwegian Recipe

Norwegian bacalao - photo by
  • 800 grams of skinless, boneless soaked klippfish
  • 800 grams of potatoes, peeled
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 dl water
  • 4 dl olive oil
  • 2 dl tomato purée
  • 150 grams canned tomatoes
  • ¼ fresh dried chili pepper or 1 small dried chili

How to do it:

The fish must soak in plenty of fresh water for 24 hours. This is important in order to avoid the dish being too salt.

Cut the fish into 4 cm (1 ¾”) squares.

Slice the potatoes (5 mm thick) and onion as well.

Combine remaning ingredients in a large, wide pot.

Bring to a boil, then layer the fish, the onions and finally the potatoes.

Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, 1 1/2 - 2 hours.

Tradition and History

Salted, dried Norwegian cod - Photo: Karl Ragnar Gjertsen

In fact, this is not really a traditional Norwegian food, or recipe. The word bacalhau is Portugese, and simply means cod. Actually, in many Latin countries like Brazil, Italy, Greece and of course Spain, the term Bacalao is used for stockfish or salted cod.

First of all this is a Portugese dish, that also has become very popular i Norway. And even in Portugal they use dried cod from Norway.

As far back as to the 14th century, the Spanish salted and dried cod. The origin method of preparing the fish like this actually came from the "Terra do bacalhau" in New Foundland, and the Bay of Biscay in Spain.

The old fashioned way of stockfish drying

This is the old way of dryiyng the fish (photo from Indre Kvarøy in Nordland county).

In Norway the dish is made of the traditional Klippfisk, which is cod that is heavy salted, and then dried on rocks until it is dry and hard as wood.

In this way it can be stored for a very long time, and when you are going to use it you will have to cut it in smaller pieces (see the recipe under), put it in a lot of cold, fresh water, and keep it there for 12 - 20 hours.

You even might have to exchange the water to reduce the salt content.

Next day it will be almost like fresh fish, only more salty of course.This processing was introduced in Norway around 1640, and until recently the salted fish was dried on slopes of naked rocks.

The industry today of course use more modern technology which also gives a first-class product, but the local Norwegian fishermen along the coast still today prepares the fish in the old way.

It is said that the image of Southern temper and unusual, exotic spices makes the term "Bacalao" exciting and new to us Norwegians.

Stockfish is used in thousands of recipes and the preparing-methods vary from cooking, to frying, to baking etc.

Statue in Kristiansund, Norway. Photo: Sverre Stølen

Kristiansund in Norway is one of the coastal towns with a long history of Stockfish. It even has its own annual Bacalao-days of celebration.

As we know, the tradition of Stockfish and Bacalao goes way back in the history, and in Kristiansund the womens hard work of drying the fish has been commemorated with a statue showing one of them. 
The statue is to be seen at the Kristiansund Harbour, and shows The Clipfish Woman of Kristiansund, made by the sculptor Tore Bjørn Skjølsvik.  The photo is by Sverre Stølen.

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