Unlocking the flavour & goodness in Salt Cod
Flavoursome, flaky white fish a favourite Northern Hemisphere winter-time comfort food. Winter is coming to Australia and I am European, which explains this recipe post.
Although the fresh stuff is hard to come by in any hemisphere these days due to fishing restrictions and cost, the resource that attracted Europeans to pillage the New World lends itself to preserving in salt extremely well.
Cod fillets are cured in a 25% salt solution and the traditional months-long process of drying can now be achieved in hours. Salt Cod, or Bacaloa to use its Spanish name, can be found where there are Continental Delicatessens or decent fishmongers. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere it is likely you will be getting deep sea Ling fished in the Southern Pacific near New Zealand.
Some people find the odour of Salt Cod overpowering and unpleasant. It could be argued these people have not yet matched its flavour to the right ingredients or cooking methods. If you are one of those people but an adventurous cook then this could be the recipe for you.
It is a bit whiffy, that is true. You can let this put you in mind of adventures on the Black Pearl and imagine Johnny or Orlando or Penelope prancing around in frilly shirts to get over the odour hump, or you can appreciate the science. Halophilic or salt-loving Micrococcus bacteria generate flavour by producing free amino acids and Tri-methyl-amine aka fishiness. These bacteria compete with spoilage bacteria for dominance over the cod and when they win we get a good product and TMA odour molecules.
Salt Cod must be white as off colours indicate off flavours from oxidation of free fatty acids and the activity of unwelcome spoilage microbes. Look at how white t is, like an iceberg, no?
This method of preserving fish gave protein, nutrients and fatty acids to the slave colonies of central and south America, the Caribbean and the seafaring peoples of the world for decades so it must be good enough for us now.
[divider]Recipe for Bacalao baked with potatoes, cream and tomato and olive sauce [/divider]
Two days before you want to cook it, soak the Salt Cod in plenty of cold water and put it in the fridge. Change the water once every hour for the first four hours then just in the morning and at night. There are no short-cuts to this step.
Preheat oven to 180 0 C
200-300g salt cod, this is the usual size of a vacuum pack sold in Australia but your supplier may sell you a bigger piece, in which case lucky you.
150ml double cream
zest of one lemon
handful of chopped fresh parsley
salt and pepper
Waxy potatoes peeled and sliced
Olive and tomato sauce
1 teaspoon of anchovy fillets
2 cloves of garlic crushed
small pinch of chilli powder or paprika for a bit of heat
mixed dried herbs including oregano and thyme
one 400g can of diced Italian tomatoes
12 black olives torn in to pieces
small glass of red wine
1 teaspoon of sugar
f you find a very, very, good bottled product that you like then use that. If you want to make your own then know that this is a flavour-coaxing operation rather than a recipe so do it carefully.
- Heat 25 mls or a good splash of best quality olive oil in a heavy based saucepan
- Add a teaspoon of anchovy fillets and crush them with a wooden spoon, they will melt and disintegrate
- Add the garlic and the chilli and see that they sizzle in the pan for a minute, take off the heat when the garlic starts to colour
- Add the tomatoes and stir well but turn up the heat slightly
- Add the sugar and salt and pepper and mixed herbs and stir well.
- Turn down the heat to a gentle simmer and stir in the wine.
- Leave to cook down uncovered for 10 minutes
- Check seasoning and stir in the olive pieces
Now for the salt cod and potatoes
- Drain the salt cod and rinse under a cold tap
- Place on a board, loosen the skin at the tail end, peel it off and discard. Cut in to two or three pieces and check for any bones
- Place in a saucepan and cover with cold water, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. You could throw in a bay leaf and a bit of lemon zest if you like. Open the windows and don’t let it boil over, remember those abundant TMAs? They don’t clean up easily on a cooker top in solution.
- Drain the fish and leave to cool while you par boil the potatoes for 3 or 4 minutes and drain them too, rinse them under the cold tap for a bit.
- Grease a shallow casserole dish with some good olive oil
- Flake in half the fish on the bottom and sprinkle on half the lemon zest and parsley and cover with a layer of potatoes. Repeat.
- Pour over the cream
- Top with the tomato and olive sauce
- Bake for 30 minutes uncovered on a baking sheet.
- Serve with greens, good bread and red wine. And drained canned chickpeas and whole almonds sautéed with canola oil and ground cumin and coriander as an appetiser, well that’s what you’d get if you came to my house for dinner. But of course it’s not a competition.