Monday, January 17, 2011

Boiled Salt Cod

For Christmas I was given a wonderful book titled, 1001 Foods You Must Taste Before You Die, edited by Frances Case. It is a wonderful collection of food items, many of which I've never heard of and many of which we have in our refrigerator. I'm sure it will provide inspiration for me to try many new foods I otherwise would not know about or consider. 

On page 415 is a food item I've never tried before: salt cod. The book points out that for hundreds of years salting and drying was the main method used to preserve fish. But now, with refrigeration, salting is no longer necessary and now "salt cod belongs in the luxury league." Salting changes the flavor and texture of the cod. The book states that it has a "moist and flaky texture" and "savory flavor with faintly brackish overtones." I'm sure it is an item that my great-great-great grandfather, Captain George Cannon, had more than his share of. 

In Los Angeles on Saturday, I found salt cod in a Korean supermarket and had to give it a try.  
The skin side of the salt cod out of the package.
The flesh side of the salt cod out of the package.
A close-up of the salty skin side.
A close-up of a side angle.
A close-up of the flesh side.
I did not realize until after I bought it that it was one of the 1001 "must taste" foods, so I was extra happy with the purchase. I went on-line and found a number of recipes for baccala, the name given for salt cod in Spain.  The recipe recommended rinsing off the salt in cold water, then soaking it in cold water for 12 or more hours, changing the water two to three times daily. I cut the fish into three pieces and soaked it for about 16 hours. 
Each time I changed the water, it had a fair collection of salt. By the end, the salt cod had plumped-up or re-hydrated quite a bit. 
Then, once thoroughly soaked, you are to pick out the bones and remove the skin. 
I found the sharp little bones came out relatively easily, when picked out one by one, and even better, many of the bones came out when I pulled off the skin, as the skin seemed to attach more strongly to the bony structures. 
The recipe then suggested immersing the fish in rapidly boiling hot water for five to eight minutes, draining it, and then serving it with lemon juice, olive oil or mayonnaise. I boiled my fish for five minutes, 
then put on a mixture of olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon. 
The salt cod was relatively flaky and moist. The saltiness had been completely removed and I needed to salt the fish, in addition to the oil and lemon. Although it had plumped up and was flaky, it still had somewhat of a texture like a wrung-out dish rag, although I make it sound worse than it was. My paralegal grew up in a home where they served it on Christmas and called it "cape cod turkey." She hated it, but said her parents loved it. My expectations were quite low, so I was pleasantly surprised by the taste. I ended up eating my entire helping, although I would likely not chose to cook it again. I would not call it a "delicacy" by any stretch of the imagination, but it was fun to cook and try. 


  1. From experience the joy of eating salt cod is directly proportionate to the thickness of the fish. The cod in your picture looks very thin--next time get a large piece of the best cod from the north atlantic which should be about 2 to 3 inches thick. A half cod should cost at least 35-45 dollars, but the texture and flavor is unmatched.

  2. Thanks for the tip. If I ever see it that thick I'll try it again. I have had it again in a Jamaican restaurant with ackee and it was better, but still not as thick as what you are saying.