Salt cod may not be a basic in your home, but in many European homes, it is. It can be tossed into your morning eggs, or mixed with potatoes to make a delicious side dish; can be stuffed into peppers, or fried into small coquettes as an appetizing starter. It is a luxury here in the states, as it can be quite expensive, and traditionally it is only found on the tables during special holidays or important meals.
Bacalhau (Portuguese), bacalao (Spanish), bakailao (Basque), bacalla (Catalan), and morue (French) are just a few of the many names that salt cod goes by. Whichever name you want to call it, salt cod is all made the same; salt, cod, and time. Traditionally it was left outside to dry in the sun. Modern times have it made with the same ingredients, but the drying process is helped along with refrigeration or dryers. The drying of food preserves it, and the drying of fish gave it an added shelf life of many years. The method was cheap and could be done by the fisherman’s family, and the finished product was easy to transport to the neighboring village markets.
My heritage is Basque; unfortunately, I don’t remember ever having salt cod on the table. We ate many other things that some would consider “odd” such as tongue, brains, sweetbreads; you get the picture. I have a feeling salt cod was a bit of a luxury for my family. The first time I had salt cod was at a Basque restaurant in the city. I loved it. The salted cod was stuffed in roasted piquillo peppers, which finished with a drizzle of really good olive oil. I adored it, so much that I contacted the restaurant for the recipe; they never gave it to me. It wasn’t until I started dating Lenny that I had it again, and this time it was at his family’s home during the Christmas holiday. I could not get enough of it. After coming back to San Francisco, I searched for it, but always had a hard time finding any, and when I did, it was very expensive or I did not like the quality. I knew there had to be a way to make it. Then I saw Matt’s post about how he made his own salt cod. I was excited and could not wait to try it out on my own.
Don’t be intimidated, making salt cod at home is simple. With a little salt and some planning you can have fresh salt cod on the table in a few days. The hardest part was finding “true cod”. I would check with my market, once a week, to see if true cod was in. Never! I did not give up, and finally it arrived. I had the fishmonger pick out two pounds of pure white, and fleshly cod for this curing project. I did not want thin pieces nor did I want any skin on it. I lined a glass baking dish with kosher salt, and then buried the cod in it; covering the top, and sides until I could not see any fish. Then I put it into the fridge and forgot about it. 48 hours later, I gently rinsed the salt off, and dried the salted cod with paper towels. Then I wrapped it in cheesecloth, put it back in the fridge, and forgot about it until it was firm, 7 – 10 days. After the cod is dried, you can use it right away, or freeze it for another time. The finished product cost me about $10 for a pound. It was flaky and very flavorful. I liked having control of the cut of fish, and that it did not have any dark meat, skin, or bones. Just perfectly dried cod.
Salt cod is about to become a basic in our Portuguese~Basque home.
Recipe: Homemade Salt Cod
What you need:
- 1 pound true cod, rinsed, and patted dry
- kosher salt
- cheese cloth
- deep glass dish
- small metal rack
What you need to do:
In a deep glass dish, fill the bottom with kosher salt; lay the cod on top. Cover the top, and sides of the fish with more kosher salt, until you cannot see any flesh. Put it into the fridge, and forget it for 48 hours. Remove the cod from the salt, rinse off with cold water, and pat dry; very dry. Wrap in a single layer of cheese cloth. Clean out the same glass dish, and dry well. Put the small metal rack in the dish, and set the cheese cloth wrapped cod on top of the metal rack. Return the cod to the fridge, and keep there until the fish is stiff, and dry; about 7 – 10 days depending on how thick the fish is. When the fish is dry, you can put it into a Ziploc bag, and put into the freezer to use at a later time, or use it after soaking for 24 hours (very important to soak for 24 hours before cooking with it).
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