A Gastronomic Conversion

Three types of fish predominate in Spanish cookery (apart from an abundance of mariscos), merluza (hake), bacalao (cod) and sardinas (sardines), merluza and sardinas, I love, but I have always steered clear of bacalao. The reason is simple. Cod is a North Atlantic fish, and I am familiar with it, fresh and white on the fish stalls of Bury market from when I lived in the UK. It was a superb fish, and we ate a lot of it. But in order to get cod to the markets of Spain, especially those of central and southern Spain, something had to be done yo the fish, so that it would survive the long, hot journey. That something was to salt it as it was caught, so that it was landed as yellow, stiff slabs of something not quite identifiable. In this form it would keep for months without refrigeration, possibly even for years. To eat salt cod you must first wash the salt out. I was far from convinced that this was possible, hence my reluctance to engage with bacalao.
However, for my birthday, back in November, I was given a copy of Simon Hopkinson's book, "The Good Cook". In it is a recipe for salt cod with garlic, olive oil and potatoes. I decided to risk it, bought my bacalao and put it to soak. I have to admit that as I saw how much salt fell off the fish before it was even in the water, I began to have fresh doubts. Putting my trust in Simon, I diligently changed the soaking water every couple of hours throughout Friday, and again a couple of times yesterday morning, and reached the point where the soaking water stayed completely clear. Then, yesterday evening I set to and prepared the dish. It was superb. Not a trace of saltiness (though added salt was not necessary for the recipe), just firm tasty flesh in a creamy, garlicky sauce, comforting and warming for a cold January evening.
All I can say is buy the book, buy the bacalao and get stuck in!

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