Cod is not a fish of Mediterranean waters and you may wonder why a dried fish is so popular in coastal areas. Since the tenth century, fishermen have been going out to the North Atlantic to get cod. They fillet it on their boats, stack the fillets between layers of salt to extract the moisture, and dry them. The Christian countries became dedicated to the strong, distinctive taste when the fish was used as a replacement for meat during Lent and other fasting days, at a time when fresh fish was unobtainable in the interior due to lack of transport and refrigeration. The old traditional penitential dishes are now much-loved delicacies.
You can find salt cod in Italian stores and in some supermarkets. It needs to be soaked in cold water for around 24 hours before you can use it.
My very favorite salt cod dish is brandade. I used to buy it from the market in the Rue de Seine in Paris and eat it, still hot, sitting on a bench in a little garden where people went to scatter bread for birds.
Serve as an appetizer spread on small pieces of thin toast brushed with extra-virgin olive oil, or as a first course accompanied by a green salad.
Creamed Salt Cod, Potatoes, and Garlic
- 10 oz (285 g) salt cod
- 2 large baking potatoes, peeled and quartered
- ½ cup (120 ml) heavy cream or whole milk, warmed
- ½ cup (120 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 to 3 garlic cloves, to taste black pepper
- juice of ½ lemon, optional
- 1-3 tbsp snipped fresh chives, optional
- Soak the salt cod in plenty of cold water for 24 hours, changing the water at least four times. Drain before using.
- Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft, then drain.
- Place the drained salt cod in a pan of cold water and bring to a simmer, then remove the pan from the heat and let it stand for 15 minutes. Drain, then carefully remove any skin and bones (there are usually quite a few) and flake into small pieces with your fingers.
- Put the fish in a food processor and blend to a paste. Then pour in the cream or milk and olive oil, a little at a time, alternating them, and pulse to a creamy paste.
- Add the garlic to the cod and season with pepper, then add the boiled potatoes and blend to a purée that retains a little texture. If you have oversoaked the fish and desalted it too much, you may need to add a little salt. You may also like to add a little lemon juice.
- If serving cold, spoon into a bowl and sprinkle with the chives (if using). If you want to serve it hot, preheat the oven to 350°F. Spoon the mixture into a baking dish and bake for 10 minutes.
Reprinted with permission from Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean: Treasured Recipes from a Lifetime of Travel by Claudia Roden, copyright © 2021. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.