Saturday, October 9, 2010

Salt Cod Cakes

This recipe takes a great deal of time and planning, but is actually not all that difficult and is really worth the effort.

1 pound salt cod
½ litre milk

Mashed Potatoes
3-4 large russet potatoes
2 tblsp butter
fresh nutmeg
black pepper

Vegetable Mix
1 large leek, cleaned and sliced
1/4 cup slab bacon, cut in lardons
1 red pepper, diced
½ head garlic, minced
1 cob sweet corn, niblets cut off
olive oil*
2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp harissa **
1 tsp thyme
1 small bunch chopped chives

2 eggs
panko bread crumbs

Dipping Sauce
1 cup sour cream
1 tblsp prepared horseradish

* this is a Mediterranean-inspired dish, so do use a good quality olive oil everywhere it is called for.
** harissa is a very potent chili paste originating in North Africa. It can be made yourself from red chiles, garlic and oil. I purchase mine at an Arab grocery in Jean-Talon market and it is very strong. It can also be found in jars or tubes in many supermarkets. You could substitute Asian chili-garlicpaste, but you may need to use a little bit more.

While eventually all parts of this recipe will combine into a single unit, these components are made separately, so it will be less confusing and intimidating to approach these tasks one at a time.

The first thing to mention is the amount of time this will take. Preparing everything from the start will take several days. It can be done in as little as three days, but I would recommend spreading it out over 5 days - you will get a better product and it will be less stressful. So obviously you need to plan this well in advance.

First, the cod needs to be prepared. Put the salt cod in a large pot/casserole and cover with cold water. Leave in the fridge to soak for 2-3 days, changing the water at least 4 or 5 times. It is especially important to keep changing the water early in the soaking process, to make sure the salt level of the soaking water does not get so elevated as to slow the extraction of more salt. The flavour will be a little stronger if you only soak for 2 days - it will also be saltier but should still be acceptable. I soaked the fish for 3 days, changing the water at least every 12 hours. When the soaking is finished, cook the cod. Place the cod in a large pot and cover with milk - you can dilute up to 50% with water and it will still be fine. Simmer the cod in the milk for 8-10 minutes and drain, reserving about 1 cup of the poaching liquid. Flake the cooked cod into small pieces - do so carefully because there will possibly be bones running through the fish that need to be removed. Reserve the cod.

Peel and slice the potatoes into disks about ½ inch thick. Put in a very large pot (it will seem to big for the job but you will see why) covered with water and boil until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and return them to the pot. Add the butter and mash, then add just enough poaching liquid to create a smooth mashed potato. Season with nutmeg and pepper. Then add the pieces of salt cod and check for seasoning. If you soaked for 3 days, you may need to add a small amount of salt. Set aside.

Vegetable Mix
Heat a frying pan with olive oil, add the lardons and cook until crispy. Add leeks and red peppers and saute until soft. Add garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Then add the corn and the spices. Cook for a minute or two longer, then add the entire contents of the pan to the cod-potato mixture. Mix well. Add about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, chives and check for seasoning. Chill mix in the refrigerator at least 4 hours, overnight is much better.

Set up a breading station as I mentioned for Fried Chicken. Flour in the first dish, 2 eggs beaten with a bit of milk in the second dish and panko in the third dish. Make sure you have a lot of panko. Also try to work as quickly as you can, since the more the fish cake mix warms up, the more difficult it will be to keep together. Take a tablespoon of mix and shape into a disc. Coat it in flour, dip in egg and roll in panko. THEN, put it back into the egg and coat again in panko. This double breading will make the finished product so much crispier and easier to eat. This will make a lot of fish cakes, so if you don’t want to make that much, you could just reheat the mix and eat it as is.

Put about 1/4 - ½ inch of olive oil in a frying pan. When hot start adding fish cakes. Do not overcrowd the pan. A standard home-sized frying pan will probably fit 4-5 cakes at a time. There should be enough space around each cake so that the temperature does not drop too much. Cook 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown.

While the fish cakes are cooking prepare the sauce. Mix horseradish into sour cream. Done.

When the fish cakes are done, drain them briefly on paper towels. If you are frying more than about 4 or 5 batches, you may want to hold the fish cakes in a 200 degree F oven to keep warm. Serve with dipping sauce.

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