Here we are, in the midst of the snowpacalypse, and my patience for winter is running out. I’ve been dreaming of warm, sunny places where it doesn’t snow 24″ every other month. I’ve been eating marmalade out of the jar and downing tropical fruit left and right, but clearly, it was time to step it up a notch….so I’ve moved on to virtual vacations. Given my fondness for both the Iberian Peninsula and salt, was it inevitable that I turned to salt cod?
This is a fairly basic salt cod stew from Simon and Inés Ortega’s wonderful 1080 Recipes. If you haven’t seen this book and are curious about what Spaniards eat at home (as opposed to in tapas bars), you’ve got to check it out. Part of what I love about it is that the translation to English is pretty much limited to language and measurements—I can think of few things less likely to appear in an American cookbook than “Lambs’ feet fritters” or “Pickled Partridges.” Other recipes, though, are eminently doable and made for improvisation. I was very, very happy with this recipe. The stew turned out sort of like a Spanish bouillabaisse, or maybe a thin Manhattan chowder, and the cooked salt cod ends up with a texture not unlike lobster.
Salt cod may be a bit hard to come by in certain parts of the country, but I’ve had good luck finding it in ethnic groceries, urban supermarkets, and Philadelphia’s Italian Market. Unless you’ve made your own salt cod, no points here for seasonal or local, but the rest of the ingredients are more virtuous.
Salt Cod Stew (paraphrased and lightly adapted from 1080 Recipes)
1 lb or package of boneless salt cod
2 T olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pint home-canned tomatoes or roasted tomatoes
springs of bouquet garni herbs: lavender, thyme, parsley, and a bay leaf
2 lbs potatoes, in thick slices
6 c. fish stock (optional)
pinch of saffron
handful chopped parsley
1) The night before you make the stew, start soaking the salt cod in a tray or dish. Change the water at least four times—the more you change the water, the less salty it will be.
2) Cook the onions in the oil in a soup pot for about five minutes, until translucent. Add the garlic and stir 30 seconds more. Add the tomatoes and their juices and cook another 5 minutes. Add about 6 cups of water or fish stock, the herbs (except the saffron), and the potatoes. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down, and start simmering.
3) Meanwhile, crush the saffron in a small bowl, then dissolve it in a bit of the hot stock. Add the mixture to the pot and simmer about 20 minutes.
4) Cut the salt cod in about 1″ pieces, removing any stray bones. Transfer to the soup pot and cook another 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning—it most likely won’t need salt, but a little pepper is nice. Throw in some chopped parsley for garnish.
I can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t be able to make this in the crock pot, except that it might get too salty if you didn’t soak the salt cod properly. If anyone has tried that successfully, please let me know!