Stockfish Messina Style

 

(“ Stoccafisso alla Messinese” -“Piscistoccu a Ghiotta”)


                           

Stocco or stockfish is preserved fish, dried by the sun and wind in the coastal area of Norway. Big fish are gutted and hang in special racks from February to March when the temperature, mitigated by the warm Current of the Gulf is slightly above 32 degrees, is ideal to dry the fish, prevent bacterial growth and protect from insects. After another period of drying indoors, the stockfish can be brought to faraway markets with no spoilage problems, and it can be stored for years. The fish mostly used is the cod or other fish of the same large family which includes Pollock, haddock and hake. Their white lean meat has large flakes and it has a fine and mild taste.
The stockfish has been traded in North Europe for centuries, however it became popular when it was introduced first in Sicily and then in Southern Italy and all over Europe by the Normans in the XI century: it has more nutrients than fresh fish, when it is soaked it increases in quantity, it was reasonably priced, and it makes a delicious dish.
When in the XVII century salt was exported in large quantities to the Scandinavian countries, cod and other whitefish started to be preserved with salt and called  baccala’.  Stockfish and baccala’ are widely used in Sicilian and Italian cooking and other cuisines worldwide: it is versatile, easy to prepare and very tasty. Once it was a popular and inexpensive dish; today it is an expensive delicacy that can be found in the best restaurant and cooked at home as a treat for special occasions or holidays.
In Italy, the most famous stockfish dishes are the Stocco alla Messinese, Messina’s style stockfish, and Baccala’ alla Vicentina, Vicenza’s style stockfish; in Vicenza for unknown reasons the stocco  is called baccala’.
When living in Palermo, a few times a year we were invited for dinner by family friends from Messina living in town. They often cooked piscistoccu,  stockfish, and served it as a piatto  unico, single serving, with fresh bread, good wine and fruits or they served pasta dressed with the sauce of thepiscistoccu  followed by the fish in its delicious sauce with potatoes and red wine, fruits and other special delicacies Messinesi. They cooked the piscistoccu  in the traditional way, with passion, without short cuts giving to it an unequal taste. In the preparation of this dish, all the ingredients used by all cooks, are the same except for the tomato: some use salsina, tomato paste, others use pomidoro,  pureed peeled tomato. Either way the Stocco alla Messinese though slightly different in its consistency, still has a delicious taste. Try both versions!


SERVES 6

INGREDIENTS

 

  • 1 ½ lbs. of white medium size potatoes
  • 2 lbs. dry stockfish
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 stalks of celery chopped
  • 2 tablespoons of capers rinsed and roughly chopped
  • ¼ cup of olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf 
  • 2 cups of pureed peeled tomatoes or 8 oz. tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of seedless currants or raisins
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of pine nuts
  • ¼ cup of parsley finely chopped
  • ¼ cup of green olives, pitted and cut in half
  • ¼ cup of black olives, pitted and cut in half
  • Dry hot red peppers flakes, served on the side
  • Salt and pepper to taste 

PREPARATION


Pound the stockfish in order to break up its fibers. Place it in a 6 quart sauce pot with about 4 quarts of cold water. Soak for at least 5 nights, changing the water every 12 hours. It is ready when almost double in volume.  Cut the stockfish into chunks about 2 X 3 inches, eliminate all bones and leave the skin on. At this point it can be kept in the refrigerator for a maximum of 24 hours, until ready to use.


 

The Potatoes
Rinse the potatoes under running water to remove any sand, peel, cut into quarts and place in a large pot with water until ready to use, so they won’t get oxidized and dark. 


 

The Stockfish
Place over a medium heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil, the chopped onions, celery, capers, bay leaf and 1 cup of water. When the water has evaporated, continue sautéing and stir the mixture for a few more minutes until it is barely light golden in color. Add the pureed peeled tomatoes (or the tomato paste diluted in a cup of water), and blend into mixture stirring continuously; mix into sauce 2 cup of water, add salt and pepper to taste and place the fish at the bottom of the pot, skin down. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

 

                               

 

Uncoverand gently shake the pot. 

Continue to cook the stockfish for an additional 20 minutes; uncover and gently shake the pot and add the currants or raisins, pine nuts, the green and black olives and the parsley. Drain the potatoes and place them in any space at the bottom of the pot and/or on top of the stockfish. Sprinkle additional salt and pepper over the potatoes and add some water to almost cover the potatoes. Continue simmering covered, occasionally gently shaking the pot. Add some water when it seems necessary. When the potatoes are cooked the stockfish is ready. Never stir the pot to avoid the stockfish from breaking into small pieces.


 

The Serving 
Remove and discard the bay leaf. Serve hot or warm, place crushed red pepper on the table and plenty of fresh bread.


NOTE:
If you want to make extra sauce double all ingredients except for the stockfish. Any extra sauce left over can be utilized as a condiment for pasta.