Salt Cod Brandade
Salt cod is not very cool. I always avoid passing it in the deli, where it forms a little stink cloud, keeping everyone under 82 far, far away. But I’ve grown to love salt cod. Really! It may not be popular in the supermarket, but mix it with some magic ingredients (that you probably already have at home) and it will be your best friend.
Here in Sydney the weather has turned from warm to not so warm. Unless you’re in the sun, in which case it’s definitely still warm. Actually, it’s still pretty warm. But the nights do get chilly enough for me to pull on a big sweater and want something for dinner that will warm me up from the inside. And so I decided to make brandade.
Brandade one of my favorite cold weather foods, so salty and fishy and creamy with a cheesy crust and a gooey, steaming interior. For those of you who usually bypass the stinking salted cod carcasses in the Italian market, brandade (the French version of baccalà mantecato) is a puree of salt cod, mashed potatoes, heavy cream, garlic and onion. The mixture is scooped into little ramekins, top with a bit of grated parmesan, baked until piping hot, then topped with capers and parsley and served with crusty bread.
The process is a bit daunting (it involves soaking a massive fillet of salt cod overnight) but well worth the effort. The friends we had over for dinner definitely appreciated it as they wiped their ramekins clean with every last scrap of bread. I have a feeling brandade is about to be the next big thing. Like macaroni and cheese and short ribs before it, it’s comforting, hearty, creamy and straightforward. And it’s easy enough to make even for a loser like me without a food processor. Yes, I made it in the blender. I love a little cod flavor in my smoothies, don’t you?
So, as the weather cools off and smoothies are out of the picture for awhile, I must remind myself to make brandade more often. Whether or not it starts hitting the menu of every neighborhood bistro, it’s definitely popular in this house. So beat the trend! Invite a whole bunch of people you want to impress over and make a batch of brandade. You’ll be the most popular kid in town.
SALT COD BRANDADE
Serves 6 as a main course or 8 – 9 as an appetizer. You can adjust the ratio of cod to potatoes if you like things less or more fishy, but I think they’re just perfect this way.
1 kilo (2 pounds) salt cod (you’ll find it at your Italian grocer, methinks)
1 kilo (2 pounds) waxy potatoes, peeled and chunked
3 tablespoons butter
6 – 8 big cloves garlic, minced
1 onion, chopped finely
1/3 – 1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
capers and chopped parsley, to serve
Begin the night before you plan to make the brandade by soaking the big piece of fish in an even bigger bowl of water for at least 12 hours, changing the water a few times and seriously rinsing the fish to start. You’re just trying to get rid of most of the salt. It’s okay to leave this out of the fridge. I did and no one died.
Ok, when you’re ready to go, finely chop the garlic and onion. In a small pan, melt the butter over low heat and sautee the garlic and onion (gently! you don’t want them to brown) for about 30 minutes. Just let them go as you prepare the cod and potatoes.
Now, set two pots of water to boil. Chop the salt cod into workable pieces (about 6) and boil it for about 5 – 10 minutes, or until flaking, then drain and set aside to cool. In the other bowl, boil the potatoes until very soft, about 10 – 15 minutes then drain.
Once your salt cod is cool enough to handle, remove the skin (it should come off relatively easily) and pick out all the little bones. In a food processor or blender, mix the cod, potatoes and garlic-onion mixture. Add in the heavy cream, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. It’s okay if it’s not totally smooth, but you want to get rid of any big chunks of potato.
Once pureed, you can leave the mixture for up to a day in the fridge. Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Scoop the brandade into individual ramekins and top with a little bit of Parmesan. Bake the ramekins in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. You may want to broil them for a few minutes at the end to make the perfect crust. Carefully remove from oven and place ramekins directly onto hotplates to serve. Top with capers, chopped parsley and serve with toasted country bread. Remind your guests that the ramekins are really hot and dig in.