My Life in Peru

An Expat Mom Shares Her Experiences with Peruvian Life, Travel and Food

Guiso de Bacalao for the Semana Santa

Posted on | April 20, 2011 | 3 Comments

Guiso Bacalao

Catholic tradition is to eat fish on Friday. Fridays are traditionally a day of penance in the Catholic religion,  to commemorate the crucifixion of Christ.

(Side note – it’s why McDonald’s serves the Filet-o-Fish sandwich, sales of burgers dropped off so much on Fridays, they had to come up with an alternative!)

Good Friday – the Friday before Easter – is an especially holy day in Catholic cultures like you find here in Peru.  As such, it should be no surprise that a fish dish is the traditional Good Friday meal.  Like we are accustomed to turkey for Thanksgiving or ham on Easter, in Peru they have guiso de bacalao for Good Friday.

Bacalao is the Spanish term for dried salt cod (Portuguese bacalhau).  Cod is a northern fish and has been important as an economic commodity since the time of the Vikings.  It was salted and dried for preservation, and used in trade.  Cod is not native to the coastal regions of South America, the Portuguese and Spanish brought the fish with them to the New World.  And the Catholic Conquistadors are the ones who introduced the continent to the idea of Seco de Bacalao, or Salt Cod Stew for Good Friday.

Before it’s used in cooking, bacalao must be soaked in fresh water to rehydrate it and remove the salt. The best way to do that is to cover it with a few inches of water in a large bowl, and leave it in the fridge for about 48 hours – changing the water every 8 hours.  Once the cod has be desalinated, you’re ready to use it for cooking.

I was asked by my friend Maria to come up with a recipe for Guiso de Bacalao – I hope this one does it justice!  I actually could not find a recipe online that seemed “authentic” Peruvian to me, and this is something that my mother in law doesn’t make, so she was no help either! Instead, I incorporated what I know about Peruvian cooking, and came up with something on my own.


  • 1 pound desalinated bacalao, broken up into large, bite sized pieces.
  • 2 Tbsp of oil
  • 1 onion, julienned thin slices
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp of tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp of aji panca paste
  • ½ cup of fresh green peas
  • ½ cup of thin carrot slices
  • 4 potatoes, peeled and cut into medium sized cubes
  • 1-1½ cups of fish broth (you can substitute chicken broth if you prefer)


  1. Heat the oil to medium in a large dutch oven.
  2. Add the onion and garlic, saute until it becomes transparent.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste and the aji, heat through.
  4. Add the rest of the ingredients except the fish and give it a stir.
  5. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer tightly covered for about 15 minutes.
  6. Add the fish and continue simmering another 15 minutes.

Serve over white rice, of course!


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3 Responses to “Guiso de Bacalao for the Semana Santa”

  1. Maria
    April 20th, 2011 @ 18:49

    Kelly! you are the best. I have to try your recipe, unfortunately I must travel on Friday so will enjoy it upon my return :-(

    I never learned to make my Mom’s bacalao (she made it once a year) and now I regret it. I remember the delicious flavor of oregano and olive oil and she added at the end boiled/cut up potatoes (I believe yellow potatoes or ‘papas arenosas’…it was wonderful! I am sure yours is also a winner.

    Thanks so much!

  2. Mom
    April 21st, 2011 @ 10:10

    Do I see a cookbook on the horizon??

  3. Kelly
    April 21st, 2011 @ 11:54

    Ooooh, probably not! I’ve thought about doing an ebook and selling it online – but that’s a way in the future. 😉

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    I got tired of life happening while I made other plans, so I quit my job and came to Peru. I live here with my Peruvian husband, two sons, three dogs and various other family members, depending on the weather.

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