Making lemonade with lemons is easy enough but what does one do when one is handed cod, and FROZEN dried cod at that, aha?
Actually, frozen dried cod is sheer bliss — and sssshhh! don’t say I said so to the fresh-fish police of whom I am an honoured member. Dried cod or salt cod that hails from Northern freezing cold seas is known as “baccalà” in Italian and became a staple fish dish all over the Peninsula, even in cities such as Naples and Venice that live upon the sea, and certainly would not need to import fish from the waters of Scandinavia. Over centuries, each region of Italy has developed its own approach to this fish and so, ironically, it might even be the most ‘Italian’ fish of them all. Again, don’t say I said so. (We Italians are very proprietorial about our recipes and perish the thought that an Italian recipe might rely on a foreign influence, puah!)
But back to cold-chain basics and the ease of the freeze.
I knew I would not have time to shop one evening last week and rummaged around in my freezer until my aching blue-tinged hand chanced upon a large fillet of frozen baccalà. I removed it and popped it into a large bowl, poured water over it and left home only to return eight hours later. Sigh. To be honest I was not in one of my gleeful “let’s make a great dinner out of nothing” moods. Quite the opposite. And sometimes, that’s when magic happens in the kitchen. Full of resolve, hands on hip, mentally defying the idiocy of wanting to attempt such an undertaking at 8:30 p.m., I set about cooking three separate recipes with said one fillet of now defrosted baccalà.
See for yourselves.
P.S. It’s a good job my husband is a patient man. Also, that he likes to watch current affairs on TV while I concoct dinner. So I would like to dedicate this post to him and also to Mr Victor Hazan, whom I know appreciates fish over meat.
I sliced the fillet into three.
First recipe was “Mantecato di Baccalà”, known as brandade in French. Basically, it’s just a puré of the fish, and nice to eat with toast for instance.
I placed the cod in a small pan, adding enough milk to cover it, and slices of both lemon and orange zest. Bring the milk to the boil and then drain the fish.
You can see the lemon and orange in the photo, which are to be removed at this stage. Add one clove of very thinly sliced garlic, some chives, and a good dollop of olive oil.
Blend the fish and keep adding the olive oil until you reach the right consistency. Taste and see whether you need to add a little bit of salt? Definitely a twist of white pepper. I ended up adding a wee wee dribble of milk too, for extra smoothness. Done!
And that’s how I served the brandade, eventually, surrounded by other goodies. More about them later.
RECIPE NUMBER TWO – Braised cod with vanilla
I began by chopping an onion, quite roughly at that, and browning it in a saucepan over quite a high heat (I was in a hurry remember?) and adding some chopped up tomatoes after a while. A good sprinkling of salt, naturally. I then added a vanilla pod and some olives to the sauce before deftly laying in the cod pieces, last.
It does not take long to cook the cod. You can see the vanilla pod in the photo above. The vanilla makes all the difference to the tomato sauce, rendering it more ‘interesting’ in a subtle way. Also, it would seem I added some fresh rosemary for freshness.
RECIPE NUMBER THREE – FRIED COD
I wanted to fry the cod in batter, basically because I was going to fry some florets of previously cooked broccoli in batter too. As all my friends and family know, I am an FFF: a fried food fanatic. So … as to the batter … normally I make it another way. On this last occasion I worked backwords. I poured one cup of water into a bowl and added an egg, and whisked everything up. I then added flour, by and by, until I reached the consistency of batter that I wanted. A little dribble of olive oil and an ice cube to get it nice and cold and voilà – batter at the ready.
I dredged the chunks of cod in some flour.
I then dunked them in the batter.
And finally fried the cod and the broccoli florets.
Fried foods are eaten best hot, which is why I cooked them last.
So just for a recap, here are some more photos:
Brandade surrounded by fried cod, fried broccoli and red pepper (yes, I cooked some red pepper too, it was in the fridge looking very lonely).
Vanilla enhanced braised cod. By the way don’t you just love this ceramic dish? It’s a creation of Cassandra Wainhouse, who used to have a gorgeous shop in San Gimignano.
For crunch factor, I quickly fried some phyllo pastry just before we sat down. It looks like mess, yes, but it worked a treat (I love this ceramic dish too – this one is from Ceramicarte in Certaldo, where Judy Witts Francini lives).
So there … cod is a wonderful fish to play around with, even when it’s frozen. Take a look at other recipes I toyed around with in the past, perhaps some will grab your fancy: