Flaky poached cod prepared Roman Italian style with a delicious tomato sauce. This is a version of Baccalà al pomodoro alla Romana, an authentic Italian dish using dried salted cod. This recipe uses fresh cod which is more easily available. Either way, this is a delicious Italian style fish dish!
Baccalà alla Romana
Baccalà is an Italian cod fish that has been dried in salt to preserve it. To use baccalà in this dish, you need to soak it in water in the refrigerator for a few days to rehydrate it. This also removes excess salt.
Baccalà al pomodoro alla Romana is an authentic Italian salt cod recipe made with cod cooked in a tomato sauce.
Although baccala is commonly found in Italy, it can be difficult to find in the US. You can use fresh fish to make this recipe and have a taste of Italy in your own kitchen!
Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Authentic. This is an authentic Italian recipe with an adaptation of using fresh cod which is easier to source in the US.
- Under an hour. This simple dish is easy to prepare and ready in under an hour.
- Suitable for many meals. Serve this traditional dish as a delicious weeknight meal, or for a special occasion like Rosh Hashanah, Passover, or shabbat.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
See the recipe card below for a complete ingredient list and measurements.Jump to Recipe
- Produce - The onion-celery-carrot trio of aromatic vegetables is called “soffritto” in Italian, and they are commonly used to form the flavor base of sauces.
- Fresh cod - Traditionally this dish is made with Italian salted cod, called baccalà. That can be harder to find here in the US, so I have adapted this dish to use fresh cod instead. If you do use baccalà, make sure to soak it in water in the refrigerator for 2-3 days to rehydrate prior to use. Change out the water a few times to get rid of the salt. This can be made with or without the cod skin. Check to make sure that small bones have been removed before cooking. If you aren’t a fan of cod, you can make this with another flaky white fish.
- San Marzano tomatoes - Use canned San Marzano DOP tomatoes if you can find them. These tomatoes cost a little bit more, but they are more flavorful and not bitter or acidic. Usually no sugar is needed when you use San Marzano tomatoes. Puree the tomatoes with a food processor or hand blender.
- Seasonings - Cumin is more commonly used in the Libyan version of the dish. I really liked the flavor so I added it here. If you don’t have or like cumin, you can leave it out. If cumin is omitted, then substitute parsley with basil or cilantro for flavor.
Step by Step Photos
See the recipe card below for complete directions.Jump to Recipe
Pureé tomatoes in a large bowl using an immersion blender until smooth.
Sauté chopped onions in olive oil in a large skillet or sauté pan until soft and translucent.
Add tomatoes and cumin and stir. Add carrot, celery and garlic and bring to a simmer.
Allow the tomato sauce to simmer and reduce until thick and jammy. Remove the carrot, celery, and garlic.
Add fish fillets to the tomato sauce and spoon sauce on top of each. Cover and heat at a gentle simmer until fish is cooked through.
Top with fresh herbs. Serve immediately. Serve with couscous or rice to absorb the extra sauce.
- Check the fish for bones before cooking. Remove bones with fish tweezers.
- Thicker pieces of fish will take longer to cook than thinner pieces, so remove the smaller ones first.
- If you have leftover sauce, it is delicious on rice or pasta the next day.
- If the sauce tastes too acidic, add a pinch or two of sugar to balance it out.
- If you are using baccalà (salted cod) do not add any additional salt to the dish.
There are many possible variations to this baccalà recipe.
- Optional additions include raisins and pinenuts or black olives and capers.
- Sometimes a different seasoning profile is used like basil or cinnamon.
- Some people use a combination of fresh tomatoes and canned tomatoes.
- Option to add a splash of white wine to deglaze the pan. Use a dry white wine like sauvignon blanc.
- There’s a Libyan dish called haraimi which is similar. It is spicy and made with tomato paste and water rather than fresh or canned tomatoes. It has ground red pepper flakes for spice. The dish is often flavored with cumin or caraway.
The sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead of time and refrigerated, or it can be frozen for up to 6 months.
Storage and Reheating
How to store: Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Turn the leftovers into a delicious pasta dish by tossing the sauce with cooked pasta and mixing in flaked pieces of fish.
How to freeze: I do not recommend freezing this dish, as it will change the texture of the fish.
How to reheat: Reheat gently in a skillet until just warmed throughout.
What to serve with baccalà
Serve this easy fish recipe with a grain or potato side and a vegetable like broccoli or green beans.
I first had this cod fish recipe for shabbat in Rome at the home of Rabbi Piha. His wife Hana is a talented cook, and I’m grateful that she shared the recipe with me. The recipe originally comes from Rabbi Piha’s Italian grandmother.
This dish reminds me of the warm shabbat dinner that I enjoyed with the Piha family filled with interesting guests, lively conversation, and delicious food. I felt an instant connection to the family, and it’s a special experience to be welcomed and to share a shabbat celebration with others across the world.
Later in my visit to Rome, I had another wonderful variation of this cod dish made at Yotvata Restaurant, a kosher dairy restaurant. Owner Yael Sed served me a fabulous lunch with the dishes that she felt were most representative of Roman Jewish cuisine including fried artichoke, fried baccalà, mozzarella and zucchini flowers, endive and anchovies, and a ricotta cake called cassola.
Her version of cod fish with onions and tomatoes was very delicious. I especially like how she flavored her rich tomato sauce by cooking it with aromatic vegetables. Yael is using her culinary school experience to add interesting twists to her family’s classic recipes. I appreciate that Yael generously shared her recipes and knowledge of Roman Jewish cuisine.
Right when I got home, I couldn’t wait to recreate the cod dish in my kitchen. I combined aspects of Hana and Yael’s versions and came up with the recipe that I am sharing here.
This cod dish is considered a Jewish dish because salted cod was brought over to Italy by the Spanish Jews who were escaping the Spanish Inquisition during the Middle Ages. The dish is sometimes called Baccala all’Ebraica, meaning Jewish-style cod fish.
More Italian recipes
Frequently Asked Questions
Cod is a white fish with a firm and flakey texture. Cod filets have a mild flavor, making it great for numerous dishes. They should be easily available at most grocery stores.
Baccalà is preserved cod that has been dried and salted. To use baccalà, you must soak it in water in the refrigerator for a few days to rehydrate it remove excess salt.
Italian Cod with Tomato Sauce (Baccalà)
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ½ medium onion chopped small (about ⅔ cup when chopped), mild or sweet preferred
- 2 pounds fresh cod fillets deboned and cut into 6 filets (or sea bass, halibut, haddock)
- 2 teaspoons Diamond crystals kosher salt divided
- ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper divided
- 1 28-ounce can whole peeled unsalted San Marzano tomatoes puréed with a hand blender
- ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 medium carrot cut in half
- 1 celery rib cut in half
- 1 garlic clove peeled
- ¼ - ½ teaspoon white granulated sugar optional
- Fresh parsley about 1 teaspoon chopped for garnish
- SAUTÉ ONIONS: In a 12” sauté pan with high sides and lid OR a 6 quart dutch oven, sauté the chopped onion in olive oil uncovered over a medium flame until soft, translucent, and slightly brown, stirring occasionally, about 6 minutes.
- PREP THE FISH: In the meantime, rinse cod under cold water, and pat dry. Check for any remaining bones, and remove with fish tweezers. Season cod fillets with about 1 teaspoon of the salt and ⅛ teaspoon of the pepper, and set aside to absorb.
- MAKE THE TOMATO SAUCE: To the pan with cooked onions, add the puréed tomatoes, cumin, and the remaining salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Place the carrot, celery, and garlic in the tomato mixture to flavor the sauce. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce flame to about medium low so that the sauce simmers uncovered and reduces. Cook until thick and jammy, about 30 minutes. The sauce will thin out later in the next step when the fish gives off water. Remove the carrot, celery, and garlic, and discard. Taste the sauce for seasoning. Add a little more salt, pepper, or cumin if desired. If the tomatoes are acidic, stir in ¼ to ½ teaspoon of sugar.
- COOK THE FISH: Cook all the fish at once in a single layer in the tomato sauce, and do not overcrowd the pan. Take out a second large sauté pan with lid if needed, and in that case, divide the sauce into the second pan and heat for a few minutes on medium to bring the pan to temperature. Spoon some sauce on top of each filet. Turn to medium heat, and once the sauce starts to boil, cover with a lid and reduce the flame to medium low so that the sauce simmers. Do not flip the fish. The fish will cook quickly in about 5-7 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Take care not to overcook. The fish is ready when it is no longer translucent and is a solid white color inside. Cook until the center of the fish reaches an internal temperature of 145ºF on an instant read digital thermometer.
- SERVE: Taste and add a little salt if needed. Sprinkle chopped Italian parsley on top as a garnish. Serve immediately. Serve with couscous, rice, potatoes, or crusty bread to absorb the extra sauce.
- If you use baccalà (salted cod) for this dish, make sure to soak it in water in the refrigerator for 2-3 days to rehydrate prior to use. Change out the water a few times to get rid of the salt.
- This can be made with or without the cod skin.
- How to store: Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Turn the leftovers into a delicious pasta dish by tossing the sauce with cooked pasta and mixing in flaked pieces of fish.
- How to freeze: I do not recommend freezing this recipe, as it will change the texture of the fish.
- How to reheat: Reheat gently in a skillet until just warmed throughout.