Salt Cod — Off the Beaten Aisle

by in How-to, April 30th, 2012

salt cod with roasted potatoes
If ever a food needed a brand overhaul, it’s salt cod.

Because nothing about that name inspires cravings. It actually sounds like something you spread on an icy walkway to keep people from slipping.

But salt cod actually has a rich history, especially in Portuguese and Spanish cuisine, which treat this simple ingredient with near reverence.

Salt cod is what it sounds like: cod fillets that have been preserved with salt. A lot of salt, in fact. So much so, the salt must be flushed from the fish before eating.

This can be done several ways. The most basic is to rinse the cod under cool running water, then submerge it in a bowl of water and refrigerate for 12 hours.

The result is a tender yet meaty fish that has a pleasantly solid texture (closer to a satisfying steak than to a fillet of fresh cod).

The flavor also is changed — savory and not overtly fishy. Though you will taste the salt, if the cod has been properly rinsed and soaked, it will not be too salty.

Once the cod is soaked, it can be patted dry with paper towels, cut into chunks, then simmered for 10 or so minutes.

Your options after that are numerous. The cod often is broken into flakes, then used to make cod fritters or added to chowder.

Larger chunks of cooked salt cod also make a fine curry, as well as a filling for empanadas and pot pies.

Salt cod is widely available in the seafood section of most grocers. It often is sold in small wooden boxes. A 1-pound box will produce 1½ pounds of cod after soaking.

One note about cooking: Try not to boil it. It should be cooked at a gentle simmer. Boiling will toughen the fish.

Salt Cod With Roasted Potatoes

To soak the cod, place it in a large bowl of cold water. Refrigerate for 12 hours, changing the water several times. Most packages include soaking instructions, as well as an alternative simmering method.

Start to finish: 1 hour
Servings: 6

1 pound salt cod, soaked overnight and drained
Handful of flat-leaf parsley
1 medium leek, halved lengthwise
4 medium potatoes, cut into wedges
5 medium carrots, cut into chunks
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt and ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, minced
8 scallions, white and green parts, diced
3 cups small broccoli florets
Juice of 2 lemons

Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place the cod, parsley and leek in a large saucepan, then add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, arrange the potatoes and carrots on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, then season with salt and pepper. Roast for 40 minutes.

After the cod has cooked for 10 minutes, use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a plate and let it cool enough to handle.

Using two forks, gently flake the cod into chunks, discarding any bones, as well as the leeks and parsley.

In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic and scallions and sauté for 1 minute. Add the broccoli and sauté another 5 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the cod. Toss gently, being careful not to mush the fish. Heat for 5 minutes to warm the cod.

Divide the roasted potatoes and carrots between serving plates, then spoon the cod mixture over them. Sprinkle each serving with lemon juice.

Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 420 calories; 100 calories from fat (24 percent of total calories); 11 g fat (1.5 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 115 mg cholesterol; 28 g carbohydrate; 52 g protein; 5 g fiber; 5,360 mg sodium.

J.M. Hirsch is the national food editor for The Associated Press. He is the author of the recent cookbook High Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking. He also blogs at LunchBoxBlues.com.

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