Casa Labra - Gastro Obscura

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Gastro Obscura

Casa Labra

This taberna has been frying up crunchy salt cod since 1860. 

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The people of Madrid, firmly landlocked smack dab in the center of Spain, are huge fans of seafood, so much so that the city has a tongue-in-cheek reputation as “Spain’s best port.”

This fondness goes back centuries, and one of its more popular manifestations was pavías de merluza, battered and deep-fried hake. The cooking method was ostensibly brought to Madrid by Sephardic Jews from southern Spain, and is almost certainly a precursor to Britain’s fish and chips. When salt cod became ubiquitous in Spain starting in the 17th century, it eventually superseded hake, and is now the standard, served at a couple long standing Madrid restaurants that specialize in the dish.

The most famous of these—and the oldest, dating back to 1860—is Casa Labra. Today, customers form two lines – one for standing at the bar, another for the dining room—for a finger-sized cut of tender, moist cod encased in a crispy batter shell. Croquetas de bacalao (creamy salt cod croquettes), and drinks are also available. 

Know Before You Go

Over the centuries, Madrid-style battered and deep-fried fish has existed under a variety of names. When they were served with strips of roasted peppers, the dish was known as soldaditos de Pavía, allegedly for its resemblance to a Spanish military uniform. Today, some still refer to the dish as pavías de bacalao, while at Casa Labra, they’re known as tajadas de bacalao, “cuts of salt cod.”

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March 19, 2024

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