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Making Salt Cod

There has to be something said for a recipe that combines the two big culinary focuses in my life – seafood and charcuterie (curing, preserving). Salt cod takes care of that.

Salt cod is one of those ingredients that I hardly ever use. In fact, come to think of it I have never done anything with it in my home kitchen. It is always on the menu in some form at a favorite local restaurant of mine, where it is impossible for me to have dinner there and not order something salty and fishy.

I got thinking the other day, and wondered how hard it would be to make. Turns out it is bloody easy. Easier than breathing. Well, almost. You know a dish is going to be easy when the name of it is also the full ingredient list.

Yes folks – to make salt cod you need… drum roll, no guessing now…:

salt.

cod.

BINGO! Well now, that can’t be too hard. Heck, I reckon even Sandra Lee makes stuff with more ingredients than that.

Now all I had to do was find a recipe.. however, really with a little charcuterie knowledge and that full, rather complicated list of ingredients it wouldn’t be too hard to guess how to make salt cod. Thankfully however no guess work is involved. Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book has a recipe for this classic Mediterranean fish preparation.

How to make salt cod

How to make salt cod

Traditionally salt cod was made by simply salting fillets of cod (other white fish can also be used) and leaving them to dry in the sun and wind. As with anything so seemingly simple quality of ingredients and production technique play the biggest part in the relative success here. If you can, start with the freshest cod you can find. Being totally honest here, the salt cod you see on these pages is being made with grocery store cod – albeit a rather nice local co-op who really cares about their seafood. The salt here is a simple kosher salt. I wanted to do a baseline salt cod, using really accessible ingredients, and later compare it to some fancy stuff from a sunny European country of choice. Next time I will almost certainly try this with some really great sea salt and some cod fresh off the boat, so to speak.

Back in the day there were different grades of salt cod, depending on how the cod was caught, how it was processed (bled out alive and so on), and also how long it had been cured and “matured” for. According to the fountain of knowledge (wikipedia) some is even double cured – where it is cured once, left to mature a bit, then cured some more. This is apparently the bees knees of salt cod.

The salt cod you see here will be ready in a week. From there, it is just working out what to do with it. The most typical use is in “Brandade” – an emulsion of salt cod and olive oil. Extra flavorings are often mixed in, as too is some potato for body. Versions of Brandade can be seen all over Southern European countries, and the south of France. For me, I think I am going to do something a little more modern with it when it dries. Perhaps that will be my post next week.

Anyhow, here is the rather simple technique for making salt cod. Here the cod is dried the fridge, however I don’t see why you couldn’t leave it outside in the sun and wind like those crazy European’s do. I also don’t see why you couldn’t dry the stuff in a curing chamber either, if you happen to have one sitting around. This would quite possibly yield better flavor, given the extra humidity in there would mean the fish would take longer to dry. This helps develop complexity of taste, and some uniqueness too.

How to make salt cod

Salt Cod Recipe (roughly adapted from Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie book).

1 fresh fillet of cod, skin removed

salt. quite a bit of it – at least a cup I would say

cheesecloth

Wash and dry the cod.

  1. Pour enough salt in to the bottom of a flat dish (large enough to contain the fish fillet) to totally cover the bottom of the pan. You could use a chopping board or something here too.
  2. Push the fish in to the salt. Pour more salt over the fish fillet, until it is completely covered. Gently toss the fish in the salt, until it is well covered on all sides.
  3. Wrap the fish in a double layer of cheesecloth.
  4. Lay on a rack, over a dish (the fish will release moisture, the dish is there to catch it). Put this in the fridge to cure. Leave it in the fridge for 24hours for every inch of thickness. (chances are these days you won’t find cod much more than 1″ thick).
  5. Unwrap the fish fillet and rinse the salt off. Dry well.
  6. Rewrap in a single layer of cheesecloth, return to the rack over a dish in the fridge. Leave for a week or so, until the fish is totally firm throughout.
  7. When you come to use it you will need to soak the fish in fresh clean water for 24 hours before use. Change the water a few times during these 24hours to help remove the salt.

I am assuming you could also do this with skin on cod.. Here I would rub salt all over it, cover and let it cure for 24 hours in the fridge. Rub all the salt off, poke a hole in the tail end, and hang it in my curing chamber until dry. You could certainly try this with halibut, or other fish too. Be aware however that some fish can carry worms in their flesh (halibut is one of those). Freezing the fish before hand for a week will kill these nasty blighters however.

salt cod drying

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9 Responses to “Making Salt Cod”

  1. nina says:

    Here in Cape Town, we cure snoek and a small fish called a harder. It is then called “bokkoms”. Your cod is far more refined. Can’t wait to see what recipe you are going to try!

  2. I love that you posted this, I did it a month or so ago with some mahi… I haven’t made anything (yet) so, I am looking forward to what you do. Have a wonderful day, cheers!

  3. Cynthia says:

    Salt fish plays a huge part in Caribbean cuisine and it is a must have in every kitchen. These days, not only cod is salted in these parts but also snapper and shark.

    The popular way that we cook salt fish (once soaked and boiled depending On the degree of saltiness) is to saut̩ it with lots of onions, tomatoes and hot pepper. It is served with bakes (a fried dough which swells creating a pocket for fillings). We also make a pickle with it called buljol. Another favourite thing is to make fish cakes Рsalt fish fritter. You should try making salt fish fried rice too!

  4. nick says:

    nice Matt! your pics of your food are always so nice! heres alink to my post on my salt cod…
    http://www.whatstrubyeating.com/food-eating-truby-taste/2010/7/10/salt-cod-is-done.html
    i have cured egg yolks that should be done tomorrow!
    cant wait to make salt cod fritters with the salt cod

  5. my spatula says:

    salt, check. cod, check. looking forward to trying this out, matt!

  6. Jan Anderson says:

    Probably more info than you ever wanted, but a fascinating book nevertheless. Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World by Mark Kurlansky

  7. Alex says:

    Very cool. Had never thought of doing this at home but no reason why not! The best preparation I had of salt cod was a whipped salt cod at Le Calandre. Truly spectacular. Do you fancy a challenge?

  8. matt says:

    Alex – always up for a challenge mate :)

  9. Thanks for the recipe. Seems interesting.
    But I have to say it seems difficult to replicate the good salt cod like the kind denominated with “white wing” with those tiny little fillets. It’s a good try though. But the good codfish is the tick one than even after cooked the meat comes off flaky and well defined. Also everybody knows the best codfish is the one from Norway (the king of any table). Not to mention that the time of cure, as well the temperature and levels of humidity are crucial to get a well-done job. Have you ever eat codfish in Portugal (in its 1001 ways to cook it)? If not, you should go and try it. ;)