salt cod

Pasta à la Romana has been a Friday ritual at home ever since our friend Kristen taught us how to make it a few years ago. We enjoy it so much that we’ve even posted the recipe twice on the WC for your pleasure.

spaghetti with salt cod and tomato sauce

spaghetti with salt cod and tomato sauce

Last week I de-salted a large gorgeous piece of cod. The steaks looked so chunky that Steven suggested… no really hounded me to prepare it other than my customary Portuguese businessman’s cod or the classic bacalhoada. I’d been flirting with the idea of revisiting Vitória’s lovely arroz de bacalhau com broccolis, but my demanding spouse vetoed the plan.

look at these stunning pieces of salt cod fresh from their long soak

look at these stunning pieces of salt cod fresh from their long soak

Previously I’d seen a recipe for salt cod somewhat like I’m showing here today. That one didn’t require the desalinated fish be pre-cooked (via boiling), which is a real time-saver. Though since you omit the boiling step, you’ve got to really soak the fish extensively to get enough salt out.

spaghetti with salt cod and tomato sauce

1 lb spaghetti
~1 lb thick piece salt cod (soak for 2 days, changing water multiple times, keep refrigerated), drained and cut into 2-3 inch wide pieces
3 cloves garlic
1 Bay leaf
½ cup Italian parsley, chopped fine
20 pitted Kalamata olives, halved
½ cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt
Black pepper
28oz can of diced tomatoes
½ tsp dried oregano
2 dry chili de arbol, broken
1 red scallion, chopped fine

Fill a large pot with lightly salted water and bring it to a boil.

Add olive oil to a large skillet followed by the garlic. Cook on low heat until aromatic. Add cod fish pieces and sauté, turning occasionally so all sides brown. Add chili, bay leaf, parsley and scallion, cover and let herbs wilt and cook. Now remove the lid, add tomato and oregano, some salt and pepper, bring temperature to high then when boiling reduce again to medium and cook to reduce and thicken the sauce. Reduce temperature to low.

Boil spaghetti for about ¾ of the cooking time suggested on the package, mine was 10 so I cooked it for about 7 minutes. Drain.

Add pasta to sauce and carefully toss it around the pan. Cook for a couple of minutes more to finish. Lastly, toss in Kalamata olives and tomato halves.

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I like the taste of the French/Italian/Spanish dish brandade. Usually made with salt cod, potatoes, dairy and spices, everything gets whipped together then baked in the oven till golden and delicious. Here’s a traditional brandade recipe from the New York Times.

Steven’s been after me about making this for a while. I won’t say how long. I keep promising I am going to but every time I gather the ingredients together I get distracted with other ideas. It isn’t quite “an issue” but… well, let’s just say that it’s high time that I pull this dish together.

“Brazilian” salt cod brandade

“Brazilian” salt cod brandade

My inspiration comes from the aforementioned traditional recipe and from my Dungeness crab casquinha de siri.

This is a crowd-pleaser that is perfect either as an elegant appetizer with crackers or slices of French baguette, or, like we had it, as a main course with a side of Israeli couscous and a mango and black bean salad to make a substantial meal.

Salt cod needs to be soaked in cold water for 24 to 48 hours with a few water changes to remove excess salt. I have some instructions on how to de-salt and pre-cook it here.

“Brazilian” salt cod brandade

2/3 lb prepared cod fish pieces (skinless and boneless)
2 Yukon gold potatoes, about 1lb, boiled and pureed (no lumps)
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp onion, minced
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
½ tsp sweet paprika
4 peeled tomatoes (from a can this time of year) chopped
1-2 tbsp grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 red Jalapeño pepper, minced, seeds and ribs discarded
4 tbsp light coconut milk
2 to 3 tbsp fine bread crumbs
Salt and fresh black pepper to taste
Ramekins (I used four medium sized ones)

Place cod pieces in the food processor and whiz for few seconds to break it down to small uniform bits but not into a paste.

Heat olive oil in a non stick pan, add onion and Jalapeño. Sauté until soft, add garlic and continue cooking for few more seconds until aromatic. Add tomatoes and let them break apart in the heat. Add cod, paprika, parsley, salt, pepper, coconut milk and mix everything together to warm through. Add potato and about one tablespoon bread crumbs. Mix to incorporate everything. Texture should look like that of a potato puree.

Fill your ramekins with the salt cod mix, drizzle with a bit of olive oil, top with a sprinkle of bread crumbs, and then grated parmesan cheese. Broil to give the crust a golden color (remember you’ve already cooked everything on the stove). Remove from oven a serve.

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salt cod fritters aka bolinho de bacalhau, or pasties de bacalhau

salt cod fritters aka bolinho de bacalhau, or pasties de bacalhau

I served this as appetizer for a salt cod themed dinner party we had over President’s Day weekend. We don’t fry too much at home but sometimes I like to break the rules. These cod fritters came out so good! As proof, all of them were eaten within about 10 minutes after they came out of the frying pan.

That night, we enjoyed these in the company John and Jasmine. Jasmine had just returned from her week vacation to Singapore with Prof. T (who is now somewhere in Australia for work). It was fun listening to her experiences abroad.

I made a Brazilian croquette version of this in the past which is similar. The main difference is the texture: the croquettes are slightly more dense; and the fritters, more airy and fluffy. Both are super tasty.

salt cod fritters aka bolinho de bacalhau, or pastéis de bacalhau

1 cup cooked salt cod in flakes (click here to learn how to desalt/cook salt cod)
2 cups mashed potato
4 tbsp Italian parsley, chopped fine
2 eggs
4 tbsp olive oil
½ small white onion, in small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt
Black pepper
Pinch nutmeg
Canola oil for frying

Put olive oil in a saucepan, add onions and cook on low heat until soft and translucent. Add garlic then cod, salt, pepper, nutmeg, parsley and potato and stir to combine. Cook for a couple of minutes making sure all ingredients have been mixed together. Adjust flavors. Remove from heat and let cool down a bit. Add eggs one at a time. Stir to combine.

preparing salt cod mixture for salt cod fritters aka bolinho de bacalhau, or pasties de bacalhau

preparing cod mixture for salt cod fritters aka bolinho de bacalhau, or pasties de bacalhau

Fill a small pan with a couple inches of canola oil. Bring temperature to medium high.

Use a tablespoon to scoop out the cod mixture. Use another one to shape the mass into an elliptical cake. Repeat until no cod mix remains. Fry for approximately 4 minutes or until browned, flipping half way through. Transfer to a paper towel to drain.

Serve hot with wedges of lemon and pepper sauce.

draining browned salt cod fritters

draining browned salt cod fritters

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Portuguese businessman’s salt cod aka bacalhau à Gomes de Sá

Portuguese businessman’s salt cod aka bacalhau à Gomes de Sá

This is another Portuguese salt cod recipe which I adore. Legend says that it was created by a businessman from the northern city of Porto, hence the name Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá. It is a complete success all over Brazil and a comfort food for me. It reminds me of the holidays from my childhood. My brothers and sisters would all come home and my mom would make special delectable meals for the 13 of us! Lots of activity in the kitchen preparing meals for a big family! This was one of the best.

Portuguese businessman’s salt cod aka bacalhau à Gomes de Sá

2lb dry salt cod
4 large Yukon gold potatoes
4 red bell peppers, cut in quarters, stems and seeds removed
1 bay leaf
1 tsp black peppercorn
1 cup olive oil
4 tbsp canola oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
3 eggs boiled – how to boil eggs?
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
½ bunch Italian parsley, chopped fine
3 medium sized white onions, 2 of them cut thinly in half moon shape
Freshly ground black pepper
Kosher salt

Soak cod in cold water for about 24 hours changing water about 4 times. Place cod in a large saucepan, fill with fresh water; add bay leaf, peppercorns and one whole onion. Bring to a boil then reduce temperature to medium and simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, transfer cod with part of the cooking water to a bowl and let it cool down to room temperature. Retain remaining cooking water in pan. Drain, shred cod into bite size pieces. Remove and discard skin and any bones.

cooked, desalinated cod

cooked, desalinated cod

prepared salt cod

prepared salt cod

Return saucepan to the burner. Add whole potatoes, top with more water if needed. Bring to a boil and cook until soft by not crumbly. Mine took about 25 minutes. Scoop potatoes out of the pan, and let them cool in a colander. Once cool enough to handle, peel and cut into thick slices then set aside, keep warm.

Follow the link above to boil the eggs.

Meanwhile add canola oil to a pan that is wide enough to lay quartered peppers skin down in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt, cover, bring temperature to high. Then lower it and cook/poach peppers until soft and skins are wrinkled, about 15-20 minutes. Do not burn them. Remove from heat, let cool, peel and discard skins. Set aside. Reserve the oil for other cooking purposes.

Wipe the pan with a paper towel, add ¾ cup olive oil, sliced onion, some salt and cook on low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring every now and then. Onions should be soft but not browned. Towards the last minute add crushed garlic followed by the prepared cod. Put in parsley, bell and black peppers. Carefully fold in potatoes and heat through.

Transfer to a warm serving bowl, garnish with slices of egg and Kalamata olives. Drizzle remaining olive oil over everything.

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This dish comes from a very specialized cookbook I bought last time I was in Brazil: 1000 recipes for salt cod. I know, amazing!

salt codfish croquettes AKA croquete de bacalhau

salt codfish croquettes AKA croquete de bacalhau

I was excited when I bought the book and remain so. I don’t cook many of those recipes as they are a bit naughty and decadent, full of rich sauces with cream, butter, eggs, sometimes deep fried and so on. I try to hold back on this type of cooking for a special treat. Well, Easter weekend seemed the perfect occasion to splurge.

Croquete de bacalhau is a typical fried finger food (generically called salgadinhos in Portuguese) that you might find in Brazilian bakeries. Actually it is just one of many. Others come with meat, fish fresh, palm hearts, potatoes or cheese—and sometimes in combinations of these ingredients. The bakeries in Rio de Janeiro are especially fun to visit since you can try several kinds of salgadinho and order perfectly ripe tropical fruit juice, squeezed to order right in front of you, made from things like mango, papaya, various citrus, or pineapple, all at once, for almost nothing. That is worth doing, and often!

view of Sugar Loaf from Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro

view of Sugar Loaf from Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro


some tropical fruit for sale at a market in São Paulo

some tropical fruit for sale at a market in São Paulo

I think that I must have been channeling Rio when I made these the other day. Steven and I have had such marvelous trips there. Perhaps the springtime weather we’ve lately been enjoying is stimulating my wanderlust and taste buds.

The book calls for potato in the dough, but we didn’t have any, so I used cassava root instead. (Isn’t it weird we had cassava root at home but no potatoes?) So you can use potato or cassava (I bought mine peeled and frozen at a little market in the Mission. It is pretty common in stores that sell a lot of Caribbean or Latino foods, so if you have trouble finding it, you might try there.)

salt codfish croquettes AKA croquete de bacalhau

1 cup of tomato sauce (I made my own—see below. Prepared would work, too.)
1½ cups salt cod
3 tbsp chopped onion
3 tbsp chopped parsley
Black pepper to taste
1 cup mashed cooked cassava
1 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten and slightly salted
1½ cups fine bread crumbs
Canola and olive oil for frying

For tomato sauce:

5 fresh tomatoes
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
3 tbsp olive oil
pinch dried oregano and basil
salt and pepper to taste

To prepare the tomato sauce:

Cut woody tips off tomatoes then slice them in half. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to a pan. Place tomato halves in, cover and let cook until skins begin to curl. Remove from heat. With the help of tongs, remove peels and discard them. Transfer tomatoes to a bowl, wipe pan off. Simply make sauce by sautéing garlic in olive oil, add tomato and remaining ingredients. Raise temperature to boil then lower heat to simmer, partially covered for about 20 minutes.

To prepare croquettes:

Soak salt codfish over night, changing water about 3 times to remove salt.

Bring a pot of fresh water to a boil. Drop cod fish in it. Immediately remove from heat and let poach for about 10 minutes. Remove fish from cooking water and let cool. Remove skin, bones if any, then cut into small chunks. Set aside.

Sauté onion in olive oil until translucent, then add codfish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a couple of minutes longer. Add tomato sauce. Stir and bring to boil then reduce to simmer. Adjust flavors. It should be slightly salty. Add mashed cassava, flour and parsley. Mix to incorporate. It will turn into thick dough. Remove from heat and let cool until easily handled.

rolling croquette in breadcrumbs

rolling croquette in breadcrumbs

formed croquettes ready for frying

formed croquettes ready for frying

Split dough into two equal pieces. Wet your hands with olive oil and roll each piece into a ¾ inch diameter tube or log. Cut pieces and roughly shape them into coquettes.

Roll each croquette in breadcrumbs, then in egg wash, and back again in breadcrumbs. Repeat process with remaining croquettes.

Fill a small cooking pan (8 inch in diameter) with about an inch of oil. Use about 3 parts canola to 1 part olive oil. Heat oil on high. Drop 3 to 4 croquettes in at a time and fry until golden brown. Remove to a paper towel to drain. Repeat process with remaining. Serve warm with hot sauce. Enjoy your salgadinhos!

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I was lacking cooking inspiration the other day so ended up browsing the web for ideas. I bumped into this really cool blog, weirdcombinations, and got my groove back. What caught my attention was a recipe for rice-stuffed peppers and another one for a salt codfish dish. It turned out I had all the ingredients available at home, plus, even better than them, a whole lot of freshly cooked chickpeas! 😉

black hummus and saffron rice-stuffed poblano and sweet bell peppers with salt cod topping

black hummus and saffron rice-stuffed poblano and sweet bell peppers with salt cod topping

So, back to reality. This dish is more about re-arranging things in new ways, thus making you feel you are having something surprisingly novel, yet comfortably familiar. I made this for Steven and Juanita recently. We all loved it.

black hummus and saffron rice-stuffed poblano and sweet bell peppers with salt cod topping

for the black hummus:

2 cup cooked chickpeas plus some of the juices
4 cloves garlic
kosher salt if needed
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pitted Kalamata olives
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

To prepare the black hummus, add all the above ingredients into the food processor and process to make a smooth paste.

Make full recipe for poblano and red bell peppers stuffed with saffron rice, found here. Stuff peppers with some black hummus followed by the rice. Then bake as directed in the master recipe.

Make half-recipe for the salt cod portion of salt cod with chickpea puree on Texas toast, found here. Hold the chickpeas and the toast.

To serve, place peppers on a dish then top with salt cod. Voilá!

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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.

salt cod with chickpea purée on Texas toast

salt cod with chickpea purée on Texas toast

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.

plate your own salt cod with chickpea purée on Texas toast

plate-your-own salt cod with chickpea purée on Texas toast

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.

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I got the idea for this dish from this wonderful arroz de bacalhau we had in the company of our dear friends, Luiz and Sávio, at a beach kiosk in Vitória while we were visiting back in early February. There the dish was served in those stunning and very authentic dark clay pots from Paneleiras de Goiabeiras The pots are a local, capixaba specialty in Espirito Santo.

salt cod & broccoli flavored rice

We loved sitting in the cool shade, enjoying the sea breezes, drinking Brazilian beer, eating fried fish and this amazing rice while gazing at the beautiful Atlantic Ocean and catching up. Aahhh!

breathtaking ocean view form our little kiosk in Vitoria

The rice cod dish on the beach looked spectacular because of the pot and they also displayed the broccoli at the top like a tiny green forest. Plus everything looks better with a golden beach and a deep blue sea in the background! I’m not that fussy at home, so I mixed all of the ingredients together. It still tasted just as good.

arroz de bacalhau com brocolis in Brazil

Arroz de Bacalhau com Brocolis AKA Salt Cod & Broccoli Flavored Rice

1 ½ lb salt cod
1 tsp black pepper corn
1 bay leaf
4 cups Basmati rice
½ white onion, chopped
1 bunch scallions (green and white parts), chopped
½ bunch Italian parsley, chopped
10 Spanish olives (Goya brand preferably), coarsely choppped
3 tomatoes, diced
½ red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, sliced
3 crowns of broccoli, cut in small florets, steamed al dente
½ cup extra virgin olive oil or more
water

Preparing the cod:

Soak salt cold in ½ gallon cold water. Replace water 3 times in a 24h period to desalinate and re-hydrate the fish.

Drain cod. Add to a pan with enough water to just cover it. Add bay leaf and pepper corn. Bring to a boil. Reduce temperature to low and simmer for about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let it cool completely in the cooking water. Drain and reserve ¾ cup of cooking water.

boiling salt cod with spices


Remove and discard skin and bones from fish trying to preserve chunks as big as possible. They will continue break apart with cooking so do your best to keep them whole.

Cooking the rice:

Rinse rice thoroughly. Add 3 tbsp olive oil to a pan over high heat. Add rice and toss till coated with oil. Add 5 cups of water plus reserved cooking liquid form fish. Stir. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce temp to low. Cook until water is absorbed. Stir occasionally to prevent burning. Remove from heat and keep pan covered

broccoli


Assembling the dish:

Place 3 tbsp olive oil in a paella pan or large deep skillet on high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté till fragrant. Stir in tomato and pepper. Gently fold in cod fish, scallion, olives, broccoli and cook for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle freshly ground black pepper over fish. Carefully fold in rice. Drizzle with plenty of extra virgin olive oil and serve. If you like this dish check my other recipe:salt cod cod and chick peas

Learn more about the traditional clay pots:

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Bacalhoada: salt cod with chick peas and assorted vegetables

August 31, 2009

Growing up in the hinterlands of Brazil did not help me much with my knowledge of seafood. There used to be a salesman that showed up in the village perhaps two or three times a month driving his dilapidated truck on those dusty roads announcing very loudly over speakerphone that sardines had swum all the […]

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