Origin: Basque Country, mainly Vizcaya (Bilbao)
Bacalao a la vizacaina is yet another example of the very tasty yet very simple dishes that come from the northern Spanish region of the Basque Country. The main ingredient of Bacalao a la vizacaina is codfish. Cod is perhaps one of the most consumed fish in Spain, although historically this fish was mostly a product eaten during Lent. It is also a fish that is easily fished around the coasts of Spain, of which there is a lot!
Originally from the Basque Country, Vizcaina sauce on the other hand, is a sauce that is extremely versatile and is used in a number of dishes from the region. It is often used for many stews and products such as the pork dish called 'Manos de cerdo con salsa vizcaína'. In some parts of the Basque Country, they even use the sauce in an escargot recipe. However most people will associate the sauce immediately with cod. Nowadays it is a rather polemic recipe, as the argument whether tomatoes should be one of it's ingredients or not is a very alive debate among gourmets and cooks, though many say that the red ingredient is pepper. Either way, the sauce is a rich red colour and is tasty with either ingredients. So when you come to make this dish, the choice is up to you!
The pepper theory seems historically more plausible, as tomatoes were not used as food in Spain even 200 years after they were imported; first they were used as ornamental plants. Perhaps, pepper was used originally and then, once the tomato became more commonly used in Spanish cooking, the sauce was adapated. But it doesn't really matter, in truth there are many formulas to prepare this sauce, and despite how much people may argue about it's historical accuracy, they are delicious anyway.
You might find that certain people use a type of Spanish biscuit, often a 'galleta maria', when they are making the sauce. These biscuits are used to help thicken the sauce, but it can often make it much sweeter. The sauce may be thick or runny, depending on your personal taste. If you don't want to use biscuits to thicken your sauce, you could always use plain or corn flour instead.
Bacalao a la vizcaina is perhaps one of the most notorious Spanish dishes along with paella and Spanish tortilla. It may be found in many bars and restaurants in the country and served as a dish or a tapa. We recommend you to try it if you ever come to Spain.
One of the great things about vizcaina sauce is that it is fairly simple to make and generally uses common and inexpensive ingredients. This means that it is a great option for those people who love Spanish gastronomy, but want to enjoy it on a budget!
Enjoy bacalao a la vizcaina! But watch out, the red sauce may be very tasty but it is a nightmare to get out of white clothes! A good idea might be to provide napkins if you are planning on serving this dish at a dinner party.