Basque-Style Salt Cod Soup

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes


    First-Course Servings

Appears in

Splendid Soups

Splendid Soups

By James Peterson

Published 2000

  • About

The Basques, both on the Spanish and the French sides of the Pyrenees, are aficionados of salt cod, whose full flavor makes it especially delicious in hearty soups containing peppers and tomatoes. Get the thickest salt cod you can for this soup.

Basque cooks use their own local variety of chile—piments d’Espelette—but I haven’t been able to find them in the United States. Most recipes written in English recommend using sweet peppers and then suggest adding cayenne to give the soup a little punch. I always find that sweet peppers take over the flavor of whatever they’re in, so I like to use either fresh or dried Mexican and New Mexico chilies.


  • 1 pound salt cod, soaked in cold water in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours, water changed every 6 hours
  • 3 fresh poblano or New Mexico chilies or 4 dried chilies such as ancho or guajillo
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 leek, white part only, washed and finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 medium-size tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1-½ cups canned, seeded and drained
  • 1 bouquet garni
  • salt and pepper
  • slices of French bread, toasted


Drain the cod and put it in a 4-quart pot with just enough water to cover. Bring to a slow simmer and immediately turn off the heat. Let the cod cool in the water.

If you’re using fresh chilies, roast, peel, and seed them as described, and cut them crosswise into strips.

If you’re using dried chilies, cut them lengthwise, remove the stem and seeds, and cut them crosswise into strips. Soak the strips for 20 minutes in just enough hot water to cover. Taste the soaking water—if it’s bitter, throw it out; if it tastes good, add it to the soup. Finely chop the softened chilies into a coarse paste or puree them in a blender with the white wine.

Combine the olive oil, onion, leek, and garlic in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. Stir the mixture until the onion turns translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the chilies, tomatoes, bouquet garni, and white wine if you’re using fresh chilies. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Pour the liquid used to poach the cod (if there isn’t at least 3 cups, add water to make up the difference) into the tomato mixture. Shred the cod with 2 forks or your fingers and stir it into the soup. Simmer for 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Arrange the toast slices in the soup bowls before pouring the soup over or pass the toast at the table.