Salt Fish Gets A Make-Over

Food

Salt Fish Gets A Make-Over

Thursday, March 19, 2020

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Using salt to preserve meat and fish can be traced back to early nomadic tribes. Whether it's called salt fish, morue (France), saltfiskur (Iceland), bacalhau (Portugal), or baccala (Italy), salt cod is enjoyed by the people of nearly every country that comes into contact with the Atlantic Ocean. At the advent of sea exploration what made this salt-cured delicacy appealing is that cod could be caught in the north Atlantic, cured, and eaten months later in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Cod's low-fat content makes it uniquely agreeable to long-term preservation. Food scientist Harold McGee described salt fish as the “piscatory equivalent of salt-cured hams”. From being an integral part of Jamaica's national dish to other exotic dishes, salt fish has devotees the world over. Here are a few dishes that will make you look at salt fish in a different light.

 

Puerto Rican Gazpacho

To be clear, this is not a bowl of cold tomato soup. In many Puerto Rican families, gazpacho refers to a salad comprised of flaked salt fish, avocado, tomatoes, onions, and olive oil. Soak the salt fish overnight, discarding the water before bringing it to a boil in a stockpot. Drain, cool, and flake. Stir in chopped avocado, tomatoes, and onions. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with olive oil before serving.

 

Bacalhau à Gomes de Sá (salt fish and potato gratin)

This traditional Portuguese casserole is created from using alternating layers of boiled and flaked salt fish, thinly sliced raw potatoes, olives, and caramelised onions. At the end, a layer of halved hard-boiled eggs is added before covering with sliced potatoes. The dish is cooked for an hour (or until the potatoes are cooked through). Garnish with sliced olives and hard-boiled eggs before serving.

 

Brazilian Salt Cod Stew

In Brazil, chunks of reconstituted salt fish are used to make this moreish, deeply flavoured stew. The salt fish is combined with chopped tomatoes, garlic, scallions, basil, onion, parsley, chilli peppers, and paprika and simmered in creamy coconut milk. Like our favourite Jamaican stews, this dish, too, is served over fluffy steamed white rice.

 

Albóndigas de Semana Santa (Spanish salt cod meatballs in chickpea soup)

Yes, salt fish meatballs! This is a traditional Spanish dish eaten at Easter but for us here in Jamaica is a novel way to utilise salt fish.

The stock is made from using salt fish skin (now there's a use for it) chickpeas, white beans, garlic, bay leaf, and leeks. Of course, the fish skin, bay leaf, and leeks are discarded before serving. The salt fish meatballs are made from using reconstituted flaked fish combined with sliced bread soaked in milk, and seasoned with garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Before serving, handfuls of spinach and quartered hard-boiled eggs are added to the soup.

 

Boulettes de Morue (French Salt Cod Fritters)

Leave it to the French to cook potatoes in stock laced with white wine to add dimension to these deep-fried balls of deliciousness. The process is involved, but it yields incredible croquettes that will delight family or party guests.

 

Ingredients:

1 pound of salt cod

2 cups dry white wine

1 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns

5 sprigs parsley

5 sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

1 carrot, halved lengthwise

1 large yellow onion (half left whole, half minced)

2 lb russet potatoes, scrubbed

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup chopped tarragon

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup flour

Salt, to taste

Lemon wedges, for serving

 

Method:

Place cod in a stockpot and cover with two inches of cold water; bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 20 minutes. Drain cod, return to saucepan and repeat process twice more. Transfer cod to a bowl and flake with a fork into large chunks; set aside.

Bring wine, two tablespoons oil, peppercorns, parsley, thyme, bay leaves, carrot, half of the whole onion, salt, and five cups water to a boil in a large stockpot. Reduce heat to medium and add potatoes; cook until tender, 25-30 minutes. Drain, and, using tongs, transfer potatoes to a bowl and chill. Peel and mash potatoes; add to cod.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Cook minced onion and garlic until golden, five to seven minutes; add to cod with tarragon, butter, salt, and pepper; combine. Form mixture into 10 two-ounce balls; roll in flour and chill 20 minutes.

Wipe skillet clean and heat half the remaining oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, and adding more oil as needed, fry cod balls, turning as needed, until golden, eight to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain and season with salt and pepper; serve with lemon wedges. Goes well with garlic-laced aioli.


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