Have you ever seen this? Salted cod? It usually arrives as a large flat dehydrated fish fillet, often skinned and de-boned, eggshell white. It looks like something a fraternity might use to abuse incoming freshmen with a whack. If you get a fin-side view it sort of looks like a flattened raccoon. A glance makes one think, “Hmm, non-refrigerated fish. Maybe not too smart?”
I have run into salted cod a lot though never considered the purchase (you know, the whole non-refrigerated fish thing). And actually it was D that made the ultimate purchase of what turned into the above dish.
My local fish mongers carry it. It also sits in a local Italian deli by the counter. In all locations it is out in the open air, stacked high in a simple cardboard box. Old women will shove me aside as I stare at it. They must think I’m picking out a prime specimen so they snatch a stack and toss back a few. I’m really just watching it, waiting for it to do something, speak to me, anything. With their purchase there is usually a discussion with the shop’s proprietor in the proper language (Italian in the deli; Greek in the fish monger). I imagine they are trading recipe secrets of the strange fish.
Non-refrigeration is the beauty of salted cod and how generations of near sea-living (and seafaring) folk survived harsh winters. From Norway down the continent and into the Mediterranean, these cultures have been munching salted cod and most cultures have a recipe that involves the funny looking dried up fish.
When D and I were in Norway we went to a local farmer’s market in Bergen that was selling salted cod and herring. The merchant let us try some. I’m telling you, unless you grow up and eat salted cod regularly, I do not recommend munching on the fully salted dry version. We passed on the purchase. Throughout Norway, and into Scotland, variations of salted cod were on menus, often at breakfast served with eggs. I always avoided it for pancake stacks of smoked salmon and caviar (because really, where else can one stack smoked salmon like pancakes and top it with a drizzle of caviar like it’s totally normal!?).
Last year on a trip to Chicago, D and I, with my mom in tow, dined at Avec. Salted cod was on the menu and both D and I agreed, it must be ordered. What was served was something we had never imagined salted cod to be. A warm puree of fish, a faint saltiness, deep complexity, and a whole lot of butter. Loads of delicious butter blanketing the silken fish. It was heaven in a ceramic dish and we licked it clean. Perfect for a cold, wet, late November Chicago evening.
Returning home I stood in front of the salted cod and declared, “One day I will purchase you!” I never did. D ultimately made the purchase at the Italian deli. Asking, “what should I do with it?” The answer: “You know, soak it in water and uh… eat it.” It was not recipe secrets being traded. Even knowing it had sat possibly months in the open air of the deli it arrived home we asked each other: “What do we do with it?” “I dunno, refrigerate it, I guess.” So we refrigerated it
Eventually on a wet spring day courage got the best of me. I unwrapped that cod. Soaked it in a few changes of water, pureed it with butter then broiled it until golden. If you can suggest a more delightful brunch, aside from pancake stacks of smoked salmon and caviar, I dare you.
We enjoyed our cod with hearty thin slices of rye bread, pickled ramps, hard boiled eggs and olives.
Salted Cod Dip
Active time= 15 minutes. Inactive time= 12 hours. Cook time= 8 minutes.
1 flank salted cod, approximately 1 lb
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper
Cut the cod into 3 to 4 even pieces. Place them in a bowl covered with water and soak for at least 12 hours, changing the water 2 or 3 times. Drain the cod. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add cod and boil, 2 minutes. Place cod and remaining ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer to a ceramic dish and place under the broiler for 5 to 8 minutes, until lightly golden. Serve warm with toasted bread or crackers.