Salted cod, or baccala, always makes an appearance in our household on Christmas eve. When I was growing up, it was always served crispy and hot after being floured and fried in deep, hot oil. After I got married, I started preparing it by dipping it in a beer batter first before frying. Then after a camping trip to Canada’s Gaspe Peninsula decades ago, where my husband and son caught enough codfish to feed the whole campground, I came up with a different dish, almost identical to this codfish recipe.
So there we were in the Gaspe and I had tons (well, more like ten pounds) of Codfish to deal with. We gave out lots of it to fellow campers, but kept a few pounds for ourselves. I wanted to try something other than the codfish and onions I had already sautéed for dinner one night but I hadn’t exactly brought my cache of cookbooks to search through.
Lo and behold, in a nearby museum was a display of what life was like in that region for early settlers. Codfish has been an important food source and export there for centuries. (For an interesting book on the fish, read “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed The World” by Mark Kurlansky.) A cookbook was included in the museum display and I took a peek, coming across a recipe for codfish cakes, using mashed potatoes, eggs, parsley and a few other ingredients. I wrote down the recipe quickly and have used it year after year since then.
Last year, my father found the following recipe in the Philadelphia Inquirer. He made it and brought it to our house on Christmas Eve. It’s really the same recipe I found in Canada, but it calls for balls, rather than the flat “cakes.” The oval shape is much easier to eat as finger food, making it perfect for any get-together, not just Christmas eve.
The trick is to get out there and buy that baccala. Today. At least if you want to serve it for Christmas eve. Baccala looks pretty unappetizing in the markets, stiff as a board and dry as can be. But after soaking in water for a couple of days (throwing out the water and adding new water a few times each day), the flesh becomes more like the fresh cod you buy in the supermarkets. Except it has that salty flavor that you get only from baccala.
These can be made ahead of time and reheated in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes or until heated through.
Recipe from The Philadelphia Inquirer,
Anthony's Codfish Cakes
Makes 35-40 cakes or 10-12 servings
1 pound salt cod
3 to 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
Dash of hot pepper sauce
2 to 3 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper to taste
Oil for deep frying
1. Soak the salt cod in water for 18 to 36 hours, stored in the refrigerator. Change the water several times, and check the cod by tasting a bit. You want it to be rehydrated and still salty, but not inedibly so.
2. Drain the fish from the soaking water and rinse it. Put fish in a 5-quart pot with the potatoes. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 15 minutes. Remove fish with a slotted spoon and let cool a little. Leave potatoes to cook until you can pierce them with a fork.
3. Mince the cod. Peel and mash the potatoes. Combine cod and potatoes in a bowl with onion and parsley, hot pepper sauce to taste and eggs. Season with salt and pepper to taste, keeping in mind that the fish is salty already, and mix thoroughly. Make sure the mix is not too dry; if it is, add an extra egg.
4. Heat a 2½-quart pot with about 5-6 inches of oil to about 350 degrees. Shape cod mixture into flattened egg-shaped cakes. Lower a few in the pan and fry them in batches until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. If not serving right away, they can be stored on a rimmed baking sheet and reheated in the oven before serving. Transfer hot cakes to a platter. (They're also great at room temperature.) Garnish with parsley.