Sunday, December 9, 2012

Salted Cod for Christmas

stockfish and salted cod at the Norwegian stand at Slow Food's Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre 2012
As a creamy puree, a savory fritter, baked with tomatoes, or beaten to a mousse with olive oil, salted cod is a Christmas time favorite in many countries.

Salted Cod goes by the name of bacalhau in Portuguese, which means "codfish". When in Portuguese you refer to the fresh cod, you will specify by calling it bacalhau fresco. Similar to bacalhau, salted cod is called bacalao in Spanish, and baccala in Italian. The French word for codfish is cabillaud, similar to the Dutch word kabeljauw, where bakkeljauw refers to the dried, salted version again. To throw in a couple of completely different words: in France it is also known as morue (derived from its latin Linnaeus classification, gadhus morhua). It is saltfish in the Caribbean, and in the Nordic regions, where it is mostly produced, it is klippfisk.

It is said that Basque fishermen hauled up cod in the waters near Newfoundland in the early 1500s, even before Cabot declared it a New Found Land. The fish was cleaned and salted, to be preserved for the long sea journey back. Today, Nordic countries are the biggest producers of salted cod, with the biggest importers found in southern Europa and Latin America. Cod numbers are on the decline, and other white fish are now also used to make salted fish, in particular pollock and haddock.

If cod is dried, but not salted it is stockfish. Stockfish is dried in cold air and wind. It needs to be pounded till you're sore, and then soaked for days to break up the fibers. 
salted cod soaked for 2 days
Salted Cod needs to be soaked in cold water overnight, or even for 2-3 days, changing the water every 6-8 hours. It is then ready to be used for cooking.

Easy Salted Cod Fritters
1 batch of (beer) batter
250 gr salted cod, soaked and shredded
fresh chives or thyme
minced garlic
seasoning to your liking: I like to add a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Make a batter using 1 cup plain flour and 2 tsp baking powder, adding ice cold beer (or soda water!) little by little, until your batter is still thick.

Add the soaked and shredded salted cod, the minced garlic and finely chopped herbs. Add the seasoning. Mix in well, and deep fry a test fritter: taste it for seasoning, and adjust if need be. Then proceed to deep-fry the rest. The thing is: even after proper soaking, you never know how salty the fish still is. It may be salty enough to season the batter, or additional salt may be needed. The only way to find out, is to test-fry and adjust.

Note: once all is mixed in (and especially salt), the batter should not be left too long. Best is to proceed with the deep-frying straight away.

Serve these Salted Cod Fritters as pre-dinner cocktail snacks for Christmas or New Year's Eve.

Salted Cod Cream 
(roughly based on Venetian style Baccala, which strangely enough uses stockfish: the dried cod. This recipe uses salted cod). The difference with brandade is mainly the milk: brandade is soaked and simmered cod beaten into a creamy sauce with olive oil).

500 gr salted cod, soaked
1/2 liter milk
1 bay leaf
1-2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 medium onion, quartered
a few black peppercorns
sprig of fresh thyme or rosemary

Bring the milk to a boil, add the soaked salted cod and spices and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the cod falls apart. Take out the cod and pound (or shred) fine. Add the milk little by little to make a creamy sauce. Serve it over grilled polenta squares, for instance. The Venetian Baccala is served with creamy polenta.

Baccala Gratin: layer the sauce with sliced potatoes (blanched so they are not completely raw, but still have a crunch). Top with a mixture of breadcrumbs and cheese, and bake au gratin in a moderate hot oven (180C) for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.

Chilled Baccala Cream topped with smoked salmon (for instance) makes for a beautiful Christmas dinner starter!

A Creamy Salted Cod Puree
This recipe is the same as above, but adds potato to the milk. To repeat the recipe with this adaption:
Bring the milk to a boil, add the soaked salted cod and spices and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the cod falls apart. Strain the milk, and bring back to a boil with the potato (2 cups cut potato per 500gr salted cod). Cook until the potato is soft. In the meantime, shred the cooked cod until fine. When the potato is cooked, mash it in the milk until it has a consistency of a creamy puree. With a wooden spoon, work in the shredded salted cod.

I use this Salted Cod puree as a mash for grilled fish, or - as in the photograph - with grilled octopus. It is also perfect to scoop into an earthenware dish and top with a herbed cheese and breadcrumb crust to bake au gratin in the oven. A great wintertime starter, and of course would do appetizingly well as part of your Christmas dinner.

I would love to hear what you do with salted cod!


  1. Francine, I love bacalao. When in Basque country I tried it in many variations and they were all exceptionally delicious, love it. I like your applications and will give them a try for sure. Thanks for the lovely post :)
    PS the pic with the octopus is stunning

    1. Every time you mention Basque country, your lush posts come back before my mind's eye. Thanks to you it is high on my list! Look forward to next time I see you!