Friday, March 04, 2011

DIY: Salt Cod Simplified

There are some people who are great at, as Ricky Ricardo used to say, "'splaining" things. As he's demonstrated countless times with fritters, Cajun cuisine and other mysteries like root vegetables, contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood is a master at demystifying foodstuffs. This time he takes on that staple of northern European cuisine, salt cod.

The story of how a fish from the icy northern seas became a staple ingredient across the sunny south has been told before, probably best in the book Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the Worldby Mark Kurlansky. It’s fascinating, but just as interesting is how the various Mediterranean cultures make such tasty dishes from the leathery salted cod.

Most have a traditional spread made with the rehydrated fish. Baccala mantecato in Italy, Spain’s cazuela de bacalao, and brandade in southern France share the same basic approach and ingredients: soak and cook the fish, combine with extra virgin olive oil, garlic and usually potatoes. I made a version using a couple of my favorite root vegetables, celery root and sweet potatoes, that add other flavor notes.

Homemade Salt Cod with Root Vegetables

You can find salt cod (stockfish is cod dried without salt and is similar) if you look hard, but it’s easy to make your own. Cover true cod filets with salt (kosher is fine; use at least 2-3 tablespoons for each pound of fish), put in a glass dish or plastic bag, and leave in the refrigerator overnight. Rinse, then soak in cold water for another night, changing the water a couple of times. Simmer the filets gently in water for about 20 minutes, drain and cool, then flake, removing any bones as you go.

For about a pound of fish, peel and cube a yellow potato, medium celery root, and white-fleshed sweet potato (less sweet than the orange-fleshed varieties). Simmer together in a little white wine until tender. Mash coarsely.

Dice a medium onion and cook in extra virgin olive oil until completely translucent, about 15-20 minutes; do not brown. Add 4-5 chopped garlic cloves and cook for another few minutes.

Combine everything in a bowl and mash together. Add a splash of Katz Sparkling WIne vinegar, a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a generous dusting of pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika). Taste, and add a little salt if necessary. Stir some more, and if it seems too thick or dry, add a splash of the same white wine you used to cook the vegetables and perhaps a bit more extra virgin. You want it to be spreadable but not dry. Serve with good bread, toasted or grilled is best, I think.

Photo at top by Hans Joakim on The Fresh Loaf blog.


RSA Certificate said...

Looks like a very interesting recipe, can't wait to try it out! Who knows, this might just end up being my new favorite food

Kathleen Bauer said...

It can happen…

Your Neighbor-JerryC said...

KB, you unleashed a blast from the past by posting your Salt Cod missive.

My favorite salt fish treatment is found on St. Croix. The locals use salt fish to make "pasties," those scrumptious lunch-on-the-run pocket pies that simply define mid-day in the Caribbean. Traditionally, pasties are Easter lunch fare (sorta like the Mexican Navidad tamale), although one can easily buy them any 'ol day.

The "turnover" can be stuffed with a variety of salted fishes; but the locals believe "lumpy-fish" to be the best and most expensive.

Pasties are also stuffed with goat, conch or chicken. But its the "pie" part, a flour/cornmeal mix that just gathers up the salty fish and frames it for the palette.

You can buy pasties for a buck a piece from any of the ubiquitous food carts and roach coaches that materialize around noon in every town square or cross-road. They are served warm and wrapped in a napkin. Pair a few pasties with an icy cup of ginger beer or maubi (seaweed elixir) and head off to the beach for a snorkel and...

Kathleen Bauer said...

Wow, Jerry, now that's a food memory! If you discover (and can perfect) that recipe, definitely share it. Until then, we'll just sit and drool in wonderment!