Good Monday, bleery readers.
Yes, reach for that coffee, haphazardly ridden with milk.
What I have for the week reads like a thriller, a three part episodic event-- a telenovela if you will, of salt cod. There will be suspense, there will be intrigue, there will be set changes, there will be blood.
We start in Italy where I find my latent friend behind the deli counter. He, the salted cod, looks terrifying-- a crusty piece of white fish whose pungency incites distaste in amongst suburbia. Preserved in salt, baccala gained a cult following in fishing villagers and eventually surged throughout the Mediterranean/Iberian peninsula.
To rid his dessicated body of salt, the cod then takes a 2 day spa retreat in a bath of water and emerges rejuvenated. Those who tout the fountain of youth need only follow his brackish waters.
Stiff, he poaches in milk, relaxing the fibers of his muscles.
Here we find our first dish, brandade, a smash emulsion of baccala, garlic, salt, cream and olive oil.
Some days later, the cod will go on to make a cameo on the French Californian stage in Napa Valley, with a loose interpretation on the Eggs Benedict. He will enlist help from all things cute and diminutive: the quail egg.
For his finale, my gilled friend will flutter back across the Atlantic to the south of Spain,where he beds a supple tomato confit on a mound of bucatini.
But first, the Brandade.
Brandade plays into the vanity of the fish. Once the fish is pounded into a fibrous pulp, heavy cream and Arbequina olive oil are added to flesh out the fibren infrastructure. Seemingly unassisted, the fish bloats his pockets with these full earthy fats, garlic, and salt, and claims all the credit.
Brandade sits solo on a plate or a crostini. For those with limited imagination, it is a 'dip'.
BRANDADE (3 cups) Total time 2-3 days, Active time 2 hours.
SUMMARY You must soak the salted cod for 2-3 days before starting. Plan ahead. You must also have a mortar and pestle, or a blender, but that is a distant second.
- 12-14 oz oz salted cod2-3 days ahead of time, soak the salted cod in a tub of water, neatly sealed, in your fridge. Change the water out 2-3 times a day.
- 1 c whole milk
- 1 c water
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 t salt
- 6 T heavy whipping cream
- 6 T GOOD OLIVE OIL
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lemon (garnish/optional)
- crostini, sliced baguette drizzled with olive oil, toasted, and rubbed with a garlic clove.
1. On the day of and an hour before eating, bring a saucepan with 1 c milk and 1 c water to a simmer. Push the cod into the saucepan and make sure that it is submerged. If there is not enough liquid, add some water to cover. Poach, simmering for 25 minutes. To check it it is done, it should flake easily. It was difficult for me to tell when it was done, but rub the fish between your fingers. If flakes fall off with minimal effort, it is probably done. Remove from the saucepan and place on a plate. Allow it to cool for 5 minutes while the steam escapes.
2. In a mortar and pestle combine the garlic and the 1 t sat. Mash to a paste. Remove from the mortar and pestle and set aside.
3. In a small saucepan, combine the cream and olive oil and heat on simmer to a warm, not boiling.
4. 20 minutes before eating, take a mound of cod that will fit in your mortar and pestle. Pound the fish down and try to separate the fibers through grinding and twisting away. The fibers will develop a netting that will eventually hold the fat.
5. When you are capable of distinguishing the fibers out by sight, add the cream/oil mixture bit by bit. If you are not doing all the cod at once, add the fats proportionate to the amount that is in the mortar. You want to add as much fat as the cod will hold. Add more until the fibers seem saturated.
6. Add the garlic paste and mash. Salt and pepper to taste. Repeat if necessary. Serve immediately, or save the rest for cod cakes or tiny meatballs.
Although I am equipped with an array of special skill sets, I still cannot predict the weather. On the day that the baccalao made his debut, it was sweltering hot. I insulted his costume and preparation by wrapping him up in some aluminum foil and bringing him to a BBQ.
Although delicious, the brandade was out of place amongst the vodka watermelon and turf meats, his was overlooked: The random European at an American hoedown. Adaptation was not an option, as it was far too late in the day. Hidden under bags of casa sanchez chips, the brandade found companionship in the Californian avocado. Unbeknownst to him, they would go on to collaborate and outshine the American classic, the Eggs Benedict.