Baccala. It seems that the entire Iberian peninsula lives on the stuff. Every Spaniard or Portuguese that I know holds it in very high regard. Graham and Lisa from the fish shop sing its praises too. It looks pretty dire. Dried out salted cod, what could be less inspiring? The truth is that I found myself looking blankly at the array of fresh fish in Georges Fish Shop, without a thought as to what I could prepare from the bounty of the sea. Lisa suggested “Have you ever tried salt cod?” This brought me back to reality. The thought of the cod did nothing for me but, I had to give it a go, if only to be one ahead of most Irish people and able to say that I had cooked the noxious stuff.
The slab sat in my fridge for a week while I cogitated. Being salted, it could have sat there for months without any adverse effect. I finally decided on some Rough Potato and Salted Cod Fishcakes. There is a pretty short ingredients list. This contrasts with the pretty long preparation time, taken mainly by soaking and draining the salted cod. Much like changing the water for a pet goldfish.
- Half a kilo size piece of salt cod
- 4 or 5 decent sized potatoes
- 2 red onions
- 2 eggs
- Half a litre of milk
- A bay leaf
- A bunch of thyme
- A big handful of coriander (cilantro)
- A few peppercorns
- A little salt (not that there isn’t enough on the cod)
On the day before you want to eat, soak the cod in some cold water, using a shallow dish.
Leave the cod in the water for about 4 hours. Then change the water. Repeat this process at least four times, with one extended period while you get a night’s sleep. (Think of it like owning a goldfish only with a lifetime’s water changing compressed into 36 hours.) Take the now bloated cod out of the water. (You will end up doing that with the goldfish too BTW.) Place it in a pan and add the milk, thyme, peppercorns and bay leaf.(In the case of the goldfish, tearfully flush it down the loo and then forget about it).
Simmer this for about 15 minutes or until the cod starts to separate from the skin and bone. Drain the cod and let it cool. Then begin the process of separating the meat from the bones and skin. This can only be done by hand. Don’t be squeamish. Get on with it.
Finely chop the onions. Chop the coriander. Skin and boil the potatoes. Roughly mash them without adding anything. Tip them into a big bowl. Add the remaining ingredients. You will end up with something that resembles this picture:
Stir it until everything is bound nicely, adding some black pepper for extra flavour.
Separate the mixture into small balls and flatten to make nice fish cakes. We ended up with fifteen.
Lightly dust them in flour and fry on a medium heated pan until cooked. We served ours with some crunchy bread, mayo and a nice mixed salad. The verdict is that those Spanish and Portuguese are onto something here. They were the best tasting fish cakes I have ever eaten. The salt cod adds a wonderful flavour and texture that is unique.
I admit it is a bit of trouble soaking and changing the water. However, it is more than worth the effort. If you see salt cod at your fishmonger, buy it and try it. You will not be disappointed. (Don’t bother with another goldfish.)