Have you noticed the stinky salt cod in your local fish market and wondered who buys this stuff? The French do (they call it Morue), Italians do (they call it Baccala), Spanish do (they call it Bacalao), and Portuguese do (they call it Bacalhau). So all those Mediterranean folks buy this thing that looks like fish jerky, and smell outrageouly fishy, and find some very creative uses for it. Brandade de Morue Spread is a specialty of Provence, and Italian fritters made with salt cod are some of the best fish cakes in the world.
Surprisingly, most salt cod actually comes from North American waters, not Mediterranean. At some point, cod was such a cornerstone of the New England economy that it earned itself a place in the State House in Boston. If you are ever on a tour, go see the sacred cod that hangs there. So, I think it's only proper that we Bostonians stop turning up our noses at salt cod and learn to cook with it.
Once you soak it in water for couple of days to remove the salt and then poach it in milk, it loses its aggressive saltiness and tastes like the sea. This recipe was inspired by Mario Batali's salt cod fritters I saw in Saveur about a year ago. He mashes salt cod with potatoes, cream, and garlic, shapes the mixture into patties, and pan-fries them. This is no fancy meal, but it's finger-licking good!
This is an easy recipe, but it takes some planning. I prefer to start it 3 days in advance. This gives me 2 days to soak cod, and 1 more day to chill the patties before frying them.
Serves 4 as the first course
1 Lb salt cod cut into 3" pieces
2 cups milk
4 halved garlic cloves
1 large Yukon gold potato
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup olive oil (divided)
Sliced rustic bread
Arugula for garnish
- Soak cod in a bowl full of cold water for 2 days, changing the water every 12 hours (I usually do it in the morning and in the evening). Remove cod from water and dry on paper towels.
- Put milk and half of the garlic into medium pot and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Immediately reduce heat to medium low and add cod. Simmer for 35 minutes. While cod is cooking, steam potato over a pot of boiling water for 35-40 minutes or until tender when pierced with a knife or toothpick. Remove cod from milk and cool. Remove potato from steamer and cool. Discard milk.
- Bring cream and the remaining garlic to a simmer over medium-low heat and cook for 5 minutes. Take off heat and cool for 10 minutes. Mash garlic with a fork.
- Peel potato and mash it with a fork in a bowl until smooth. Add 1/4 cup olive oil, cream with mashed garlic, cod, and mix well. Form the mixture into 3 inch long oval patties, cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.
- Set a large non-stick skillet over moderately-high heat. Add 1/4 cup olive oil or enough to form 1/8 inch layer. When the oil is hot, put cod cakes into the pan in one layer. Fry for 2 minutes or until nicely browned, flip, and fry 2 more minutes or until browned on the other side. Remove the cakes to a plate, but don't turn off the heat.
- Put the bread slices in the skillet where the cod cakes were cooked, and toast until golden brown, 1-2 minutes. Flip and toast until golden brown on the other side. Serve fish cakes on toasts with lightly dressed arugula.