I have a guilty love of cod – guilty because large swathes of the North Atlantic have been so badly plundered and of course I have no way of knowing whether the salted stuff I buy from the little supermarket up in town hails from well husbanded Icelandic bits or from the ravaged areas elsewhere**. So I try to keep consumption down and fingers crossed. Let’s hope I’m not aggravating the disaster.
Salt cod involves forethought, as it must be soaked with frequent changes of water for no less than 36 hours before cooking. Choose pieces which have plenty of chunky flesh on them: if it’s all thin tail, even the soaked result will be less than juicy. Once the fish has been fully rehydrated, cooking it is quick and simple.
Salt cod – 600 g before soaking
Onions – 3 large
Cherry tomatoes – 20
Sultanas – large handful
Pine nuts (pinoli) – 2 tbsp
Black olives – large handful
White wine – 150 ml
Peel the onions, cut them in half, then cut the halves into thin slices. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed frying pan and fry the onions slowly over a low heat, covered. You want them to go as soft as possible without catching: ten to 15 minutes should do it. Right at the end remove the lid, turn the heat up for a few minutes, and try to get some of them at least to take on a little colour.
While the onions are cooking, tear the skin off the back of the thoroughly soaked cod fillets; you may need to use a little sharp knife to pry it off if it sticks in places. If there’s a discernable line of bones anywhere, try to cut them away. The rest of the fish should be cut cross-wise into strips about 3cm wide. If the strips are long, cut them in half to make chunks.
When the onions are done, remove them from the pan and set them aside. In this same pan (don’t wash it: that’s just throwing the lovely onion flavour down the sink) heat up a little more oil and put the cod pieces in to fry over a medium heat. In fact, they probably won’t ‘fry’ exactly because they generally run so much liquid that it’s more like stewing. Cook the fish, turning the pieces occasionally, for about ten minutes.
Now it’s time to return the onions to the pan, along with all the other ingredients. The cherry tomatoes should be cut in half. The parsley (a small sprig) and bay leaves (three or four) should be torn into pieces. You can pit the olives if you wish but that just seems like hard work to me. Pour the white wine over everything, cover the pan, and leave it to bubble over a low-to-medium heat for ten or 15 minutes, adding a little water if it seems to be drying out (unlikely).
This dish seems to get better with age. Set aside for 24 hours then reheated the following day, all the flavours have deepened and amalgamated perfectly. But it’s good eaten straight away too. I like it served with steamed (boiled) potatoes tossed in olive oil and finely chopped parsley.
**I have since found that this is Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus, from FAO zone 67, off the north-west coast of Canada and Alaska, and across the Bering straight to Russia) and so not threatened at all, hurrah!
©Anne Hanley, 2013