Nick Butcher on Fiestas and Foods of Spain

Recipe for Potaje de Semana Santa



Easter has traditionally been a time for frugal eating in Spain, and the custom of not eating meat on certain days at this time of year survives. Instead of meat in their soups, the Spanish like to use dried and salted cod, 'bacalao', which is why you see so much of it in supermarkets at this time. One of the favourite Andalusian thick soups for Easter, especially Good Friday, is this one of salt cod and chickpeas. It is very simple, but is at its best the day after it's made.

  Ingredients (serves 4)

400g chickpeas
400g salt cod
100g dried white beans
1 head of garlic
4 extra cloves, garlic, peeled and sliced
2 bay leaves
a dozen peppercorns
4 tbps olive oil
saffron colouring ('colorante'), optional
chopped parsley

  1. The night before you want to make the soup, put the chickpeas and beans in a big bowl. Rinse the salt from the cod and add it to the bowl. Cover everything with plenty of cold water and leave to soak overnight.
  2. Next day, drain everything and put the beans and chickpeas in a large pot. Put the cod back in fresh water to carry on soaking. Now prepare the head of garlic: strip off all the loose skin and gripping the garlic with tongs, hold it over a medium gas flame until it is thoroughly scorched all over. Remove any loose burnt bits and put the garlic in the pot, along with the extra sliced garlic, the bay leaves and the peppercorns.
  3. Pour in the olive oil and swirl it round so that everything is coated, then pour in 1.5 litres of water. Cover and bring to the boil.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium so that the soup cooks at a lively boil. Cook for an hour, covered, topping up the soup with boiling water every twenty minutes or so.
  5. After an hour, check the chickpeas and beans to see if they are tender. If they are, add the drained pieces of cod and a little of the saffron colouring. This incidentally has no flavour but is used merely to brighten up dishes which might otherwise look rather drab.
  6. Cook for ten minutes more, then check for salt (it shouldn't need any). Turn off the heat and leave to cool. Refrigerate until the next day if wished.
  7. I think it's nicest if you take the trouble to remove all the skin and bone from the fish before you serve the soup, so take out all the pieces. Scrape off the skin and use a knife and fork to extract as many bones as possible. You can also scoop out the creamy garlic from its skin.
  8. Return the fish to the pot and reheat the soup gently but thoroughly. Sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.
  • Many cooks like to add chopped spinach to the soup towards the end.
    This is best done when reheating it.
  • The soup is better if you add the cod's tail along with the other pieces of fish.
    This is not eaten but its natural gelatin improves the texture of the soup.
  • If the salt cod is quite thick it would be advisable to leave it a few more hours in soak, changing the water half way through.
  • A strong red wine is the best thing to drink with this soup.