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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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02.08.07

Salt Cod Recipes

Recipes


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Because of the importance of salt cod in the world’s economy in centuries past, there are numerous countries that have traditional recipes that use salt cod as an ingredient. These are not archaic recipes that one must search to find, but living recipes that are still a vital part of the cuisines in countries that once traded in cod, from the bacalhao of Portugal to the cod cakes of Newfoundland, the brandade de morue of southern France to the gesmoorde vis of South Africa to the fanesca of Ecuador. Europe, Africa, North America, the Caribbean, and South America all have recipes that use this preserved fish that was once among the most valued commodities in the world.

It takes a bit of planning to work with salt cod, because you have to start the night before. Salt cod has to be soaked before it’s fit to eat. It may not seem worth the extra work, but the flavor of fresh cod is just not the same as that of salt cod. I’ve even seen recipes that advise, if you can’t find salt cod, buy fresh, salt it yourself, and then go through the soaking process. Once you know how to work with salt cod, you will find a world of traditional recipes have opened up to you.

Because salt cod is connected with the cuisines of so many countries, you can find it in a wide range of ethnic markets—Greek, Hispanic, Caribbean, African, Scandinavian, Italian.

Below, the method for preparing salt cod for use is followed by a recipe I brought home from Newfoundland, so you can try cooking with salt cod yourself. Cod cakes are a traditional dish that many Newfies still eat weekly. The ingredients are not perishable, so this dish could see you through a long winter. The summer savory is not absolutely required, but it does add a nice flavor, and savory is pretty much the “official” herb of Newfoundland. Wherever you go, if a dish features an herb, it will be summer savory, and savory stuffing is the standard stuffing for fish and birds alike. As for the salt pork fat, you can simply discard the crunchy little bits after you’ve rendered the fat. However, in Newfoundland, where these little bits of fried salt pork are called scrunchions, they are often used as a type of seasoning. While they are most commonly (one might say inevitably) served with cod tongues, I find they are pleasant with the cod cakes, as well.

If you don’t fancy the cod cakes, then any good Mediterranean cookbook will offer you several other options for working with this famous and historic ingredient.

Preparing Salt Cod

To prepare salt cod, put it in a deep bowl and cover it with cold water. Put the bowl in a cold room or the refrigerator. Soak the cod for at least 18 hours, changing the water two or three times during that period.

After the fish has soaked, drain it, and remove the skin and the bones—and fins, of course, if the pieces you bought have them. (The bones may be small, so look carefully; tweezers might be helpful for some of the bones.)

Your salt cod is now ready for use in recipes.

Newfoundland Cod Cakes

2 lb. salt cod, soaked, skinned, and boned
8 medium red potatoes (about 3 to 3.5 lb.)
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp dried summer savory
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 lb. salt pork fat

Peel and quarter the potatoes. Boil them in lightly salted water until they are very tender. Drain the potatoes, put them in a large bowl, and mash them. Stir in the summer savory and chopped onion. You could also add some fresh-ground black pepper and a tablespoon of butter to the potatoes, if you like, but those are urban refinements, and not necessary to the success or authenticity of the dish. Set the mashed potatoes aside to cool.

Cut the prepared cod into pieces and put it in a non-reactive saucepan (so no aluminum; non-stick pans okay). Cover the fish with cold water, and bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the cod flakes easily.

Drain the fish, and separate into flakes. (If you let it cool a little, you can use your fingers, which offers another opportunity to search for bones.) Then mix the flaked cod into the mashed potatoes.

Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Put the flour in a pie pan or on another sheet of wax paper. Scoop up a good handful of the cod and potato mixture and form it into patties about three inches across and 3/4 inches thick. Dip each cod cake into the flour, coating it evenly on both sides. Shake off excess flour, and place the cod cake on the baking sheet. Continue until you have used up all the mixture. (This should produce about 12 to 14 cod cakes, depending on how large you make them.) Put the cakes in the refrigerator to cool for at least an hour. (You can leave them in there for several hours, if you want to make these ahead of time.)

Cut the salt pork fat into 1/4-inch dice. In a large frying pan, fry the salt pork over medium heat, turning it frequently, until it is crisp and has rendered all its fat. Remove the scrunchions from the pan, and save or discard, as you wish.

In the fat remaining in the pan, fry 3 or 4 cod cakes at a time over medium heat for about 5 minutes per side, until they are crusty and well browned. Turn the cakes only once. As they are done, transfer them to a platter and keep them warm until all the cakes are fried. Serve with reserved scrunchions, if you so desire. Serves 6–7.

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