Salt Your Own

I dream that I live in an old stuccoed cottage in a Provencal village. I walk to the market with my basket and stop at the butcher shop where spicy sausages hang from the ceiling and a wooden box brims with stacks of plank-like dry salt cod. I remember the creamy brandade I purchased a week ago. I recall tender white pillows of fish in my neighbor’s tomatoey stew. Meandering on, I buy salad leaves from the greengrocer, a baguette from the bakery—then hike back up a stone cobbled path.

Far from Provence, in American markets, I only occasionally see salt cod in small wooden boxes. As our ancestors learned long ago, salt not only preserves fish; it lifts the flavor of fish from bland to exquisite. Now that we’re being told to eat more fish and the price of fresh cod is often reasonable, it’s worth taking the little time to salt our own codfish at home. Codfish doesn’t need to be buried in salt, but it needs 1 ½ tablespoons of kosher salt per pound, a minimum of two days to cure—and yield a classic Provencal delicacy.

Salt Cod with Tomatoes

12 oz. portion home-salted cod*

3 tablespoons olive oil

8 oz. onion chopped

2 oz. fennel or celery sliced

4 oz. sweet red pepper, sliced

2–3 cloves garlic

Pinch each dry thyme and rosemary

Crushed red pepper (optional)

1 14 oz. can plum tomatoes (or 2 cups home canned tomatoes)

1 anchovy fillet (optional)

2 teaspoons capers (optional)

pinch salt and sugar

* To prepare the cod: Sprinkle 1 pound fresh cod on both sides with 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt. Place the cod on a glass plate lined with paper towel and store it in the meat drawer or on a fridge shelf.

Leave the cod in the fridge 2–7 days to cure. You may detect a bit of fish odor the first day; then it will go away. When ready to use, soak the fish in 2 quarts cool water at least 1 hour for each day in the cure. You may soak the cod up to 24 hours in the fridge. Before cooking, pinch off a bit of the cod and taste (think sushi) for saltiness. Change the water occasionally but do not hasten the process by rinsing under warm water.

Soak salted cod 2–24 hours, changing the water occasionally before cooking.

Warm the oil in a heavy saucepan. Sauté the onion, fennel and pepper until limp. Add garlic, herbs and crushed red pepper. Sauté a few more minutes. Add chopped or hand-crushed tomatoes plus anchovy, capers, pinch of salt and sugar; simmer about 20 minutes or until reduced to a thick sauce.

Cut the fish in portions, place on top of the simmering tomato mixture, cover and simmer 10–15 minutes or until fish is snowy white and just cooked through. Serve with greens, boiled potatoes and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at Amazon.com    http://amzn.to/9lOnZv

 

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