"Perhaps the most impressive of all the cookbook blogs are the three devoted to the 2004 edition of Gourmet magazine's "The Gourmet Cookbook" -- all 5¼ pounds and 1,300-odd recipes of it. Befitting this culinary Everest, all three writers are overachievers in their professional lives."

--Lee Gomes, The Wall Street Journal, May 28, 2008
"I should have told you before how much I've been enjoying reading your thoughts. You seem like such a great cook."

--Ruth Reichl, Editor-in-Chief of Gourmet Magazine, June 8 2008, comment on "Chocolate Velvet Ice Cream".

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Italian Fried Salt Cod and Creamy Vinaigrette

Salt cod is so mysterious, isn't it? In New England it's in those wooden boxes you sometimes find, stacked close to the smoked salmon and the fake crab. What do you do with it?

I am embarrassed to tell you, readers, that the first time I encountered salt cod, early in my twenties (and well before I had embarked on any adventuresome cooking) my husband and I figured that salt cod was something akin to beef jerky or pemmican. So we bought a box and commenced to nibbling on it.

If you've ever worked with salt cod you are gagging by now. Gregg and I concluded that it was just too salty (after a few game bites) and tossed it out, mighty puzzled. Don't forget, this was when the internet was in its earliest stages--no instant clarification possible. And it never occurred to me to actually ask anybody!

But salt cod is a huge part of many cuisines all over the world, because in the old days that's how fish was shipped. Fish yards would spread fish out over wooden, slatted tables called "stages" and salt them heavily, and they would turn as tough as old boot leather. Then we shipped it everywhere, but especially down to the islands that were raising sugar cane. Why? Because they used slave labor, and slaves needed protein to work well, and salt cod was the cheapest form of protein there was. If you want to know what happened next, the sugar cane went to make molasses, which went to make rum, and voila--you've got the Triangle Trade.

How do I know all this? I used to own a walking tour business. I also like to drink rum, but that's beside the point.

The internet is well entrenched, we've got tons of cookbooks available, so you would think that recipes for salt cod would abound, right?

Not so much. You're pretty much going to find brandade, which is cod mashed potatoes, cod-tomato casseroles, and fish cakes.

Fortunately, The Gourmet Cookbook has another recipe that I found appealing: Italian Fried Salt Cod.

Here's a picture that a Mr. Jung took:

Mine looked just like this, without the nice wine glass.

I was interested in the batter--most batters that go in hot oil are some variation of flour, egg wash and flour again (or bread crumbs). This was kind of like a tempura batter, and it puffed up really nicely. Amazingly, I had to salt the fried fish sticks to get the right taste--I oversoaked my cod a bit and had to bring it up to speed.

This, by the way, is another good piece of advice I got from this recipe--taste your cod throughout the soaking process. You want it to be "pleasantly salty" and that takes anywhere from one to three days. Of course I read that after I had soaked the cod.

And here's a tip from me: if you're cooking for small numbers, don't feel like you have to soak the whole box of cod. Just take a piece out and leave the rest--it will keep almost forever. I foolishly and enthusiastically soaked all the cod and ended up throwing some away because I just couldn't use it quickly enough.

Dr. and Mrs. S. loved this dish. I gave it to them for lunch along with some squash soup--a nice flavor balance to the fish. I loved it too--I did plenty of "quality control" tasting, believe me.


Every time I make salad dressing, I am amazed at how much better it is than the bottled stuff. So I'll diligently make salad dressing for a few months...but then it gets busy, and I'll go back to Ken's, or Annie's, or whatever.

I'm just coming off a "bottled" phase, and I picked Creamy Vinaigrette as my next dressing. Epicurious does not carry this recipe, but if you've ever made your own mayonnaise it's the same idea--egg yolk in the blender along with some vinegar, mustard and shallot, then olive oil in a slow, steady stream.

The result is a thick, tangy dressing that would make a brilliant substitute for Broccoli Sauce (new readers, this is the mayo/lemon juice sauce my mom used to use to get us kids to eat broccoli) except that Broccoli Sauce is a million times easier to make. Still, if you're feeling even somewhat ambitious and are about to serve any kind of salad or green vegetable to a crowd, try this one out. The bottled stuff can't even begin to compare.


Anonymous said...

I am a big fan of salt cod, otherwise known as saltfish in Jamaica. Ackee and saltfish is the national dish of this Caribbean island. Saltfish or mackerel also features in another island dish called run-down.

Another cod tidbit: Recently, at Maritime East in Berkeley, I ordered French fried ling cod. The kitchen was out of ling, so substituted rock cod. The dish (fish) was very tasty.

Melissa Bach Palladino said...

Georgia, I would love those recipes if you can dig them up for me. A recipe called 'run-down'! I love it.

Have you ever read the book "Cod", by Mark Kurlansky? It's so readable--an incredibly fascinating history of how that one fish impacted so many cultures--I think the subtitle is something like, 'the fish that changed the world'.