Samfaina: Catalan stew with salt cod and vegetables

Samfaina: Catalan stew with salt cod and vegetables

Having visited Barcelona a few times recently I’ve been struck by the similarities between Catalan, both the language and cuisine, and French. Indeed, friends from that region of Spain attest that they can understand French quite easily because of the close affinity between the two. Certainly, the culinary similarities are readily apparent. Cava is one example, being made by the same process as Champagne, although from different grapes. Or take crema Catalana, a custard very similar to crème brûlée, but made with milk rather than heavy cream. And then there’s today’s recipe for samfaina, a traditional Catalan stew that could easily be mistaken for it’s better known Provençal counterpart, ratatouille.

This recipe is based on one in The Family Meal: Home Cooking with Ferran Adrià, a cookbook by the famed chef of elBulli. “Family meal,” as you may know, is the food restaurants make for their staff and this book describes elBulli’s take on an important restaurant ritual. I’ve only enjoyed elBulli vicariously from reading about it (most entertainingly this book). But their systematic and eclectic approach to food really comes through in this book. It seems even family meals are planned several months in advance with little left to chance. However, contrary to what you might expect from a place associated with molecular gastronomy, family meals there are quite simple and rustic with not a foam or liquid nitrogen cylinder in sight! All-in-all an interesting book to cook from, if occasionally frustrating. For instance, every recipe is copiously illustrated with pictures showing each step in detail, but then there are curious omissions such as not specifying what type of lentil to use in a ‘salmon and lentil’ recipe. Or the type of onion called for in a certain recipe when the picture suggests red whereas, this being a Spanish cookbook, it would seem ‘regular’ yellow onions are generally used elsewhere.

What attracted me to this recipe is the addition of bacalao (salt cod). It is so fantastically flavorful that bacalao may well be my favorite Iberian ingredient after chorizo! Except for remembering to desalinate the bacalao (which takes 2-3 days depending on the thickness), this is a pretty easy dish to prepare. I’ve simplified the original recipe even more by roasting rather than deep frying the veggies. I’ve not had a ‘real’ samfaina to tell if that was detrimental to the final outcome but I suspect that as with any ‘traditional’ dish there is no set recipe and my version could probably pass muster somewhere in Catalunya!


Samfaina: Catalan stew with salt cod and vegetables

Yield: 2 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour 15 min

Total Time: 1 hour 30 min


  • 1 medium courgette (zucchini), diced into 1 cm cubes
  • 1 medium aubergine (eggplant), diced into 1 cm cubes
  • 6 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow onion, diced into 1 cm pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and diced into 1 cm pieces
  • 4 tomatoes, grated
  • 1 cup desalinated bacalao, roughly flaked or cut into 2 cm cubes
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Small handful parsley, roughly chopped, for garnish
  • Crusty bread or bread crisps to serve


  1. Preheat oven to 200°C (390°F).
  2. Spread the aubergine and courgette on a roasting pan and toss with 3 Tbsp of olive oil. Roast in the oven for 15 mins until softened and beginning to brown.
  3. Heat the remaining oil in a saucepan over a medium flame. Add the garlic and fry for a minute before adding the onions. Fry for another 3-4 minutes until the onions take on some color. Stir in the red pepper and cook for another 7-8 minutes until softened. Then add the roasted vegetables and tomato. Lower heat to a simmer and cook, covered, for about an hour until the vegetables are very tender. Add more water if necessary. You should end up with quite a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Stir in the flaked bacalao and cook for another minute or two.
  5. Garnish with parsley and serve hot with bread on the side.
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7 Responses to “Samfaina: Catalan stew with salt cod and vegetables”

  1. #
    Emily — August 22, 2015 at 6:54 am

    Hi! I’m just checking out your website after we had that chat in my store the other day.

    Reading the first paragraph of this post brought to mind a comparison you could also make with Italy. It’s not as easy to find in this country as Cava, but in Italy they also make a traditional method sparkling wine – Franciacorta. And unlike Cava, it’s made using Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (or Pinot Nero).

    As for the ratatouille-like dish, I thought of caponata straight away. It’s a little less tomato-heavy than a lot of ratatouilles I seem to find, and we usually add anchovies to ours.

    I’m going to have to try your version with salt cod – it sounds great!

    • #
      Samar — August 22, 2015 at 7:06 am

      Hi Emily, thanks for the nice chat yesterday and for checking out my blog! Thanks, too, for the wine tip. Will definitely seek out a Franciacorta (do you carry one in your store?). And I’m eager to try out your caponata with anchovies. Please do let me know how you get on with the samfaina. Best, Samar.

    • #
      Samar — August 23, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      Speaking of caponata, an amusing read here: (there’s a recipe – sans anchovies – at the end).

  2. #
    Emily — August 22, 2015 at 12:52 pm

    Yes, we do have a Franciacorta! It’s 100% Chardonnay, so I guess you could liken it to a blanc de blancs Champagne.

    I’ve never bought salt cod before, although I have enjoyed it several times in restaurants. Can you recommend a good place to pick some up locally?

    • #
      Samar — August 22, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Hi Emily, Hayman’s Fisheries in the Covered Market (and their branch closer to you on Osney Mead) stock bacalao but I’m afraid I don’t know how good it is. I’ve been surviving off supplies I purchased in Barcelona. Sadly I’ve now run out and just last week purchased some at the Brindisa store in Borough Market. It wasn’t cheap (£8.45 for 300 g!) but a little goes a long way and I imagine it is good quality. If you’re not happy with Hayman’s then I’m sure you could order it from the online store ( Alternatively, I’m going back to Brindisa’s store next week for smoked anchovies (anchoa ahumada) and could pick up some bacalao for you if you like. I was surprised that they stock these anchovies because they ain’t easy to find even in Spain (they are a northern speciality), but well worth seeking out. Let me know. Always happy to help a fellow food lover!

  3. #
    Emily — August 22, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Thanks so much for the offer, but I can pick some up from Brindisa myself as I’m in that neck of the woods once a week (my wine school is on Bermondsey Street).

    I think I might try Hayman’s though – they’re usually pretty good!

    • #
      Samar — August 22, 2015 at 5:03 pm

      In that case I highly recommend also getting the anchoa ahumada (helpfully right next to the bacalao). Agreed om Hayman’s: surprisingly good seafood! Would love to chat further at some point about your wine course and time in Japan.

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