31 July 2010

Brandade de morue (salt cod and potatoes)

Walt and I keep a list, pinned to the side of the refrigerator by a magnet, of dishes we want to cook at some point in the future. Right now, some of the items on it are alouettes sans têtes (a.k.a. paupiettes de veau/dinde/porc) , steak and kidney pie (the British dish), quenelles de brochet (fish dumplings), and tourte lorraine (a meat pie from from the Lorraine region of France). Another dish that was on our list but can now be scratched off is called brandade de morue. Morue is salt cod, and brandade is made by de-salting, poaching, de-boning, and then mashing the fish into a kind of paste with olive oil, onions, and garlic. Surprisingly enough, brandade is a dish that comes from the south of France — Provence and the area around Nîmes — where salt cod is a staple of the traditional diet.
Salt cod — we bought a whole cod as well as a fillet — soaking in fresh water to leech out the excess salt
We made brandade de morue on Thursday morning for our lunch. It was a group effort, with CHM, Walt, and I working on different parts of it at different stages. Cooking the salt cod on Thursday required starting on Wednesday, however, because the first step in preparing salt cod is to soak the fish in cold water for 24 hours to get most of the salt out of it. Salt cod seems to be permanently available in the supermarkets in Saint-Aignan and Noyers.
Here's the fish after soaking — cut into medium-size pieces and in the pot to be poached in fresh water.
Soaking the cod means not just putting it in cold water for 24 hours, but also changing the water at least three or four times during that stretch of time. Evidently, the salt falls to the bottom — salt water is heavier than fresh water — so it's also good to put the fish on a rack to keep it from bathing in the saltiest water at the bottom of the container. Every few hours, then, pour off all the salty water and run new cold, fresh water in.
And here it is cooling on a baking sheet.
I was amazed at how good and fresh the soaking water and the fish smelled. Just a sniff of it took me back to my coastal North Carolina roots, when we ate fresh fish all the time. The de-salted cod doesn't smell fishy at all, but it smells like the sea — like fine, fresh fish. I found it very appetizing.
Walt mashed the poached codfish in a stone mortar with a heavy pestle. It looked and even smelled like good crabmeat at that point.
After the fish is soaked and de-salted, it plumps up slightly. The next step is to cut it into pieces, bones and all, and to poach it. Put the pieces of fish in a big pot of fresh, cold water, and bring it to the boil. As soon as the pot starts to bubble, pour off that first water and replace it with more cold, fresh water. That continues the desalination process. Bring the fish back to a simmer in the second water and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Then take the pieces of fish out with a slotted spoon and spread them out on a baking pan to cool.
Cook and mash a couple of pounds of potatoes. Don't add anything to them at this point.
There are two styles of brandade de morue. One is just the fish with olive oil, garlic, and onions. The other is the fish with those same ingredients, but mixed into mashed potatoes. That's the version we decided to make — a garden plot full of King Edward potatoes oblige. So while the fish is cooling, cook about an equal weight of peeled potatoes by putting them in a pot of cold water and bringing them to the boil. Adding a couple of bay leaves to the pot won't hurt anything. Don't add salt, though. When the potatoes are done, take them out of the water with a slotted spoon, put them in a bowl, and mash them with a fork or a potato masher.
"Sweat" some chopped onion and pressed garlic in a cup of olive oil on low heat. You just want to soften them, not brown them.
When the fish is cool enough to handle, carefully flake each piece with your hands, removing and discarding all the skin and bones. If you want to, you can put the fish in batches in a mortar and mash it with the pestle. Or you can just put the flaked fish in the pot as described below and mash it up with a heavy wooden spoon. This recipe assumes you have about a kilogram (2 to 2½ lbs.) of salt cod (weighed before soaking) and an equal quantity of potatoes. Altogether, you'll need about 2 cups of olive oil.
Stir the fish and the potatoes into the warm olive oil to make a paste. Add warm milk or cream as needed to get the right consistency.
In a big pot — the same pot will work for all the steps in the recipe, since things get cooked in stages — pour in about a cup of olive oil. In it, "sweat" three small onions, chopped, and six cloves of garlic, pressed (or crushed and chopped). Keep the heat low so the onions and garlic don't scorch, but just soften. When they're done, put the flaked or mashed fish into the pot, still on low heat, and start beating, stirring, and crushing it energetically with a heavy wooden spoon.
Pour the brandade into a baking dish. No need to oil the pan.
Once the fish is reduced to fine shreds, add the mashed potato flesh. Stir that in energetically and add the rest of the olive oil, gradually, carefully whipping it in so that the mixture thickens up and doesn't separate. If it looks too thick, add some warm whole milk (or cream) little by little, beating it in thoroughly, until you have a fairly thick paste.
Drizzle on some olive oil and bake the brandade de morue until it turns golden brown.
Taste the mixture for salt. Ours needed some at this point. Also grind in plenty of black pepper. Pour the brandade into a baking dish, smooth off the top with a spatula, and drizzle some olive oil over it. Set the dish in a fairly hot oven and let it cook for 15 or 20 minutes until the top is at least dried out, if not browned. Ours came out golden brown.
Serve brandade de morue with a green vegetable or a salad.
Once it's browned, it's ready to serve and eat. It is delicious — not fishy-tasting at all, but nutty and rich. Serve it with a green vegetable (we had fresh green beans) or a big green salad in a vinaigrette dressing. Don't forget the bread and wine. This recipe makes a lot of brandade de morue — it would easily serve 6 or even 8 as a main course. If there aren't that many of you, the leftovers will freeze well. Let the brandade cool and then cut it into squares for freezing.


  1. Ken

    Steak and kidney pie is something invented for "chefs" in pubs, more specifically chefs who can't cook.

    Steak and kidney pudding, on the other hand, is a dish worthy of kings.

    Try the latter. It's more work, but in winter it's a dish that can't be beaten.

  2. I'll probably never understand the English. Those puddings are just a mystery to me.

  3. OMG... this looks incredible. Can you please add a list to your fridge of things to make for me when I visit? This would definitely make the list!

    You never said how you liked it... but I cannot imagine that you didn't!

  4. Ok, I take back the comment about not saying how you liked it... you said it was delicious.. nuff said!

  5. Re: steak and kidney pudding. It looks pretty good. Here's Nigella Lawson's recipe.

    The brandade de morue was amazingly good.

  6. looks like crab imperial......i have never tried to make the brandade as it sounded like sooo much trouble....so guess u think it was worth it

  7. The brandade looks superb!

    Would anyone eat the cod in its original salted state, or is the salting just for preservation? I know I've had smoked whitefish that way...

    But steak and kidney pie...I secretly hope I won't get served it when visiting friends in the UK. Sorry all...

  8. I love brandade de morue and have made it few times. It is not difficult to make and it is delicious served with a crispy green salad. I bet you guys would be good at making "aligot".
    You are inspiring me to cook again.
    (Bonjour a CHM).

  9. le cauchemar de mon enfance a Montpellier..surtout que je devais finir mon assiette!

  10. This brandade looks wonderful and I am so glad you shared the recipe. My husband has a great amount of Norwegian in his genes and therefore I know this will go over big.

  11. Bonjour Yveline, c'est dommage. J'espère que vous avez appris plus tard à apprécier la bradade de morue.

    Susan, good, I hope D. likes it.

    Melinda, I don't know crab imperial but now I'll find out how to make it. Thanks for the idea.

    Diogenes, salt cod has to be soaked for 24 hours before it is edible. Salting is simply a method of preservation.

    Nadège, I've never tried making aligot before but I've eaten it in restaurants. Maybe this winter...

    One thing is for sure: I'm going to buy morue (salt cod) more often over the coming months and years. It's economical and delicious. The soaking takes 24 hours, but tant pis ! It's definitely worth the trouble.

  12. I had this in Martinique many years ago at a friend's house and I was crazy for it after that. We use salted cod for marinade or accras (we call them fish cakes. I will try your recipe Ken, Merci.

  13. Hi Ken, I would definitely keep steak and kidney pie on your list. The ones often served in English pubs have got this classic dish a bad reputation but are usually mass-produced from inferior ingredients and just reheated from frozen.

    When made with care they can be fabulous. A lot depends on the pastry. I personally dislike the mound of fluff that goes for the flaky pastry which tops the over-cooked meat filling when you get it in a pub. My grandmother used to make it with a lovely light shortcrust pastry.

    If you make it as a pudding, the pastry can be rather stodgy and although it counts as "comfort food" it can be very filling indeed.

  14. Here's a link for a recipe that makes it with shortcrust pastry.


    Here's another idea from Delia Smith



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