Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Brandade de Morue: A Ghost of Christmas Past

Two weeks ago, at a local bistro called Ella's, I had a wonderful brandade as an appetizer. I hadn't had any in years. I knew I had to make it again and soon. Because mine was better and I still had a scribbled list of ingredients...

Nearly 30 years because that was the last time I made it myself. Back in my twenties, I had a neighbor, Phil Dennis, who was a very fine cook, and a great mentor.  Some years previously I'd gotten the recipe for Brandade de Morue from a good French cook, but she'd simply jotted me a list of ingredients. I'd loved it when she made it, but up to that time my only cooking encounter with salt cod was baccala that some of my relatives served at Christmas. Luckily I had Phil to ask for help ( this was pre-home computers, about 1982) and armed with my ingredient list, and a couple of pounds of salt cod from the Reading Terminal Market, we managed to turn out several baking dishes of this absolutely heady, garlicky, unctuous seafood and potato puree. It also included several trips to the library (no Google), a messy kitchen and swapping cookbooks back and forth. We really put my new kitchen gadget...called a Cuisinart Food Processor through its paces.  Boy, that stuff was good!

I served it bubbling hot before Christmas dinner that year, and my mother, who was famous for eating so many hors d'oeuvres that she couldn't eat dinner, planted herself in front of the dish and didn't move. Well, Mom won't be at my Christmas dinner table, but I know she'll be there in spirit, planted firmly in front of the brandade.

Note: Most good fish markets, especially in Italian or Hispanic neighborhoods, will have salt cod. Plan ahead with the soaking time.
Sadly, we won't be eating this until tomorrow...

Brandade de Morue
Serves 8 as an appetizer

12 oz. salt cod, a thick filet
4 cups water
2 whole allspice berries
1/2 tsp. dry thyme leaves
2 whole cloves
5 whole peppercorns
3 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 large shallot, sliced (about 1/4 cup)
2 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup garlic confit
(or 4 garlic cloves, sliced and cooked in 1/4 cup of olive  oil, use the oil, too)
Salt and pepper to taste

a crusty baguette, sliced, and toasted or not...

1. Two or three days ahead of when you want to serve the brandade, place the salt cod in a deep bowl, cover with water and place in the fridge. Change the water at least twice daily. This will remove the excess salt, and rehydrate the fish.

2. Place 4 cups of water is a deep, covered saucepan, and add the thyme, the cloves, the allspice the peppercorns, and the bay leaves.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat, and with a slotted spoon, remove the cloves, peppercorns, allspice and bay leaves and discard. Drain the salt cod, and rinse. Add the garlic, shallot and the drained salt cod to the pot, bring to a bare simmer and cook, partly covered until the fish flakes easily, 15 t0 20 minutes.

3. Remove the fish, along with the garlic and shallot to a bowl and set aside. Add the potatoes to the fish stock and cook, partly covered until tender. Remove the potatoes to the bowl with the fish, and reduce the remaining liquid to about 1/4 cup. Watch carefully, so the starchy stock doesn't burn. Add the heavy cream and reduce until you have between 1/2 cup and 2/3 cup of reduced cream mixture. add the garlic confit to the hot cream mixture and remove from the heat.

4.Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Place the salt cod and potatoes into the bowl of a food processor, along with the shallots and garlic. Add about half of the hot cream, and process until creamy. Add as much of the remaining cream as needed. It should be the consistency of smooth mashed potatoes. Taste for seasoning. If you soaked the salt cod long enough, it may need salt, and will certainly need a jolt of good black pepper.

4. Oil a flattish baking dish or two. Place the brandade in the baking dish(es), drizzle the top with some olive oil, and place in the oven for about 15 minutes, until browned and bubbly. Serve with sliced baguette to spread it on.

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