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…:
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.
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.
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
Wash and dry the cod.
- 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.
- 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.
- Wrap the fish in a double layer of cheesecloth.
- 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).
- Unwrap the fish fillet and rinse the salt off. Dry well.
- 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.
- 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.