Recently we got a very large piece of Norwegian salt cod at our favorite salt cod market in San Jose. It was about half of a fish, so it was extremely awkward and oddly shaped. Fortunately, L and F Fish have a jigsaw, so they cut it up for us into individual sized portions. It was freaky cool to watch.
The codfish was excellent, perfectly cured and, after the extra work, in an ideal size. Two of the meatier pieces turned into this beautiful recipe. I froze the rest for another feast in the near future.
Using salt cod requires removing most of the salt before cooking. I used a different process for preparing the meatier parts of this cod fish compared to how I make bacalhoada. Instead of boiling the fish after prolonged soaking, I just scalded it to remove the skin and bones. This way, the fish retains more of its soft original texture and has a concentrated codfish flavor that is not overly fishy.
I was sort of inspired by Sean Timberlake’s description of a salted fish and johnnycakes dish he enjoyed on vacation recently in St. Marteen.
salt cod with chickpea purée on Texas toast
2 thick Norwegian salt cod fish steaks, soaked for 24hours, water changed at least three times
½ red bell pepper, cut in large squares
½ yellow bell pepper, cut in large squares
½ green bell pepper, cut in large squares
1 white onion, cubed
1 tbsp capers
¼ tsp sweet paprika
½ cup green Spanish or Greek olives pitted
½ cup kalamata olives pitted
2 cups cooked chickpeas
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp parsley
2 tbsp fish stock (see below)
Freshly ground black pepper
1½ cups crushed tomato
15 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup olive oil plus more for drizzling
6 thick slices of white bread (I didn’t have true “Texas toast” so improvised with a sweet loaf from one of my favorite bakeries here, Acme Bread Company, which I cut into thick slices)
To prepare fish:
Bring two cups of water to a boil. Drain soaking codfish. Lay pieces in a large bowl with skin side up. Pour hot water over the skin and it will curl. Let cool a bit then carefully remove skin and bones. Place cleaned fish in another bowl lined with paper towels.
Make a fish stock by cooking bones and skin for about 10 minutes in boiling water. Chop the fish skin fine and return to stock. Remove any bits of fish flesh from bones. Discard bones but keep those tasty bits for the stock. This made more fish stock than we needed. Steven made a delicious Thai jasmine rice using some of the fish stock another day. Freeze remaining stock for another day.
Place a ¼ cup of olive oil in a large skillet. Bring the heat to high and give the pan a swirl to coat the bottom. Add about the equivalent of 5 cloves of minced garlic to the skillet and cook for about a minute or until aromatic. Gently slip codfish chunks in and cook for about 3-4 minutes, delicately turning them half way. Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
Return pan to burner. Add remaining olive oil followed by the chopped onion. Cook until translucent. Add about half the remaining garlic, the bell peppers, 2 tbsp fish stock, crushed tomatoes, paprika, green olives, bay leaves, and black pepper. Cook on high until the vegetables from a thick sauce. Delicately fold fish into sauce. Remove from heat but keep warm.
To prepare chickpea purée:
Add remaining garlic and a splash of olive oil into a pan. Let garlic cook for a minute then add chickpeas, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sauté for a couple of minutes to warm it through. Transfer chickpeas to food processor along with Kalamata olives and pulse until smooth. Add a few tablespoons of water if too thick. Return to pan and keep warm.
To assemble dish:
Place bread slices on a metal tray. Drizzle with olive oil then toast them on one side only. Rub fresh garlic on toasted side.
You can plate these before serving or serve each of the three elements: the cod, the chickpea purée and the toast, separately on a large platter. Either way, simply place a piece of toast on a large dish, toasted side up. Smear with some chickpea purée then spoon some codfish with sauce on top. Garnish with parsley. This is great with a crisp Rhône or Rhône style white wine like Domaine de la Becassonne or Domaine Pierre Gonon.