Basically it’s not much different than the fish in many others “fish & chips” but since it’s typical of my area of origin I would like to show it, and to tell some of the story behind which is maybe the more interesting part, since the recipe is very simple.
First of all the name, Bertagnì, which is not an Italian word but it’s a word of the local dialect, and has not a real meaning, that’s the name. There is also a saying in rhyme: “Venerdì bertagnì“, “Friday bertagnì”, because in the past it was especially eaten on Friday because it was the day where you don’t eat meat (and even more back in the past, some centuries, there were over 200 days in a year where it was not allowed from the religion to eat meat).
The main ingredient is the cod, but not the fresh fillet but what we call “Baccalà“, which is dried and salted cod, and in the past this was the only sea fish that most of the local people could afford and could preserve easily at home (there were no fridges and freezers in the past), along with the “Stoccafisso”, the stockfish, which is also cod but just dried, without salt.
How a fish that there isn’t in the Italian sea but comes from the far north could become one of the most traditional food in this areas? The answer goes back many centuries. The most accepted answer says that Pietro Querini, a 15th-century merchant and sailing captain in the Republic of Venice, shipwrecked in Lofoten (Norway) in the winter of the year 1432. Here he discovered the stockfish and when he was able to return back to Venice he reported how good was this product and from then started the trade between northern Norway and Italy of this great product, and still nowadays in Italy this product is largely used, with countless recipes.
Then later next to the stockfish started to become popular also the salted version, called Baccalà (but to create some confusion in Veneto, Friuli and Lombardy regions people use to call Baccalà what in the reality is Stockfish 🙂 ).
This recipe is very simple, all you need to do is to prepare a batter and to deep fry in oil. And maybe to prepare a good Mayonnaise 🙂
Let’s see how to make it (well, let’s see the home version, in the markets I doubt they take the time to whisk the egg whites and I doubt they use sparkling water).
INGREDIENTS (4-5 people):
- 800 g of baccalà/dried and salted cod
- 200 g flour
- 350-400 ml of sparkling water (this is a modern choice, in the past they used normal water, which is also good)
- 2 egg whites
- a pinch of baking soda
- 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- oil to fry (I used peanuts oil), at least 1 liter
- zucchini, I like next to it (optional)
- First of all you have to wash away and brush all the salt from the Baccalà under running water, then you have to put the Baccalà to soak in cold water for at least 3 days long (keep it in the fridge meanwhile), and during these days you have to change the water 2-3 times a day. This will remove the high saltiness from it. Then you can choose to remove or to leave (traditional way) the skin. And you can choose how big size to cut the fillet: traditionally we cut it into quite big pieces and in this case you need more oil to fry and not to let the fish and the batter to touch the bottom of the frying pan (otherwise you could easily break all the batter/crust around the fish if attaching on the bottom). But you can cut it into smaller pieces and in this case it will be easier. You can also remove the fish bones if you prefer.
- Then prepare the batter: in a bowl whisk the egg whites until very stiff, and in another bowl mix the flour with the water, the extra virgin olive oil, the baking soda, a pinch of salt (a small teaspoon) and then add the egg whites and mix it gently in the batter. The batter has to be a bit thick, but smooth and homogeneous. Let the batter rest for 20-30 minutes.
- Take your pieces of Baccalà and dry them well with kitchen paper, then deep the Baccalà pieces into the batter and fry in abundant oil. The oil temperature has to be around 180 °C for a perfect fry: help yourself with a thermometer or use a wood stick, when you see bubbles coming around it immediately then it’s about that temperature.
- Fry on both sides until golden (not dark orange or even brown, that’s not a good sign), the exact time depends on how big are the fish pieces, 2-3 minutes for each side should be enough (or less if you decide to cut the fish into smaller pieces). And don’t fry too many pieces together, otherwise the oil temperature will drop too much. I also fried some zucchini using the remaining batter.
- Place the fried pieces on some kitchen paper, dry the exceeding oil (but if you fried at the correct temperature they shouldn’t absorb too much oil) and serve immediately! 🙂 also some salad next to it fits well.