Home on the Range
January 9, 2011
Salt cod is a Christmas specialty, somewhere. So at Christmastime I bought a brick. I stuck it in the back of the fridge, remembering that it's supposed to keep forever. Sometime after the holiday, actually about a year or so after the Christmas in question, I pulled out the box and read up on salt cod.
Back when cod was plentiful and refrigeration sparse, the resourceful let salt, sun and wind preserve the fish for eternity, or nearly.
The fish planks — then and now — are packed into wooden boxes and shipped to places where people like salt cod. Which is to say, Spain.
It's wildly popular there. With good reason, considering how many Spanish specialties involve salt cod revived with olive oil, garlic and potatoes. One cookbook on my shelf includes a section titled "Salt Cod Worship."
Which lists a few caveats. It's important to secure the good stuff: the thick center cut that cooks up flaky and moist. I'm thinking my year-old box of dried tails ranked as the so-so stuff.
I rehydrated it over several days. I poached it and flaked it and rolled it into little salt-cod cakes spiked with lemon and garlic and potato. They were good, but nothing to worship.
Times change. Now refrigeration is plentiful and cod sparse. Salt cod, once a necessity, now counts as (and costs like) a luxury. The cook who can't land the good dried stuff is advised to substitute fresh.
So I fried up a batch of fresh cod fritters spiked with lemon and garlic and potato. If any had been left, they might have been worthy of worship.
Prep: 30 minutes
Fry: 10 minutes
Makes: About 2 dozen
1 pound waxy potatoes (such as Yukon Gold), unpeeled
1/2 pound fresh cod, bones removed
1 cup quickie aioli, see recipe
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley
1 egg, beaten
Olive oil, for frying
1 Boil: Cover potatoes with lightly salted cold water in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook tender, 30 minutes. Drain and cool.
2 Simmer: Cover cod with cold water in a large skillet. Bring just to a simmer; simmer 1 minute. Cover and let stand 2 minutes. Drain and flake.
3 Grate: Peel and grate potatoes on the large holes of a box grater. Use a fork to gently mix in flaked cod, 2 tablespoons aioli, parsley, egg and salt to taste. Chill.
4 Shape: Roll 1 1/2-inch balls. Flatten 1 side, forming a dome shape.
5 Fry: Pour oil to a depth of 1 inch in a large heavy skillet. Heat to 360 degrees. Fry a few at a time, 1 minute per side. Serve warm with lemon and remaining aioli.
Quickie aioli: Whisk together 1 cup mayonnaise, 2 tablespoons lemon juice, 4 crushed cloves garlic, 3 tablespoons olive oil. Chill.
Provenance: Adapted from "The New Spanish Table," by Anya von Bremzen
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