I was a boy when I first became familiar with salt codfish. Racks of salted fillets would line the docks of our ancestral Nova Scotia Bay of Fundy village where my parents maintained a home. I loved sautéed Acadian cod cakes made with potatoes and the salty fish served with pickled chow chow.
Salting cod is at least 500 years old and became a staple food product and cash crop for Canada’s Maritime Provinces, Northern Europe and the Caribbean Islands. I grew up on stories of the infamous triangular trade route before I knew its full implications. The stories were romance for my early wanderlust as generations of my family caught, salted and transported this easily preserved fish to hot Caribbean islands in return for the dark rum and molasses that would warm my relatives during cold, wet Maritime winters.
While living in Puerto Rico as a young adult I immediately recognized the wooden boxes of salt cod marked with Canadian port towns I was familiar. Nothing had changed for centuries, except being introduced to the breadth of recipes this simple fish had inspired. Light fritters of salt cod – bacalaítos – became a favored comfort food.
Some years later traveling in Basque Country I enjoyed Bacalao a la Vizcaina, their codfish stew including hard-boiled eggs, capers and raisins. In France I scarfed down copious amounts of rich, elegant Brandade de Morue, a whipped spread with olive oil, cream and potatoes on crusty baguette slices.
As a chef I’ve often played with salt cod. With the worldwide decline of cod stocks due to over fishing salted pollock is a suitable substitute available in North American stores. I feel my recipe for a salt cod stew appeals to most North American tastes.
Salt Cod Stew – 6 servings
- 1 pound salt cod prepared 2 days ahead of using
- 3 cups prepared or canned, drained & rinsed garbanzo beans
- 1 large sweet onion
- 4 ribs celery
- 1 green bell pepper
- 2 scallions – green & white part.
- 6 cloves garlic
- ½ cup chopped green olives
- 2 teaspoons dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 – 28 ounce can diced stewed tomatoes with juice
- 2 cups cold water
- 2 baking potatoes
- chopped parsley for garnish
(Two days before making the stew)
- Place the salt cod in a stainless steel or glass dish large enough to completely cover with cold water. Refrigerate the cod changing the water 2 to 3 times a day for two days.
If using dried garbanzo beans start their preparation the same day as the cod. Cover ½ pound dried garbanzo beans with 2 quarts cold water. Cover and soak for at least 12 and up to 18 hours. Drain and rinse the beans. Place into a heavy 2-quart pot and cover with two quarts cold water. Bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour. The water should simmer not boil or else the beans may break up. Check after one hour. The beans should be tender but not mushy. Drain and rinse. Refrigerate until ready to use.
(Cooking the stew)
- Drain the cod and pat dry with paper towel. Slice the cod fillets into chunks about 1 to 1-½ inch squares.
- Dice the sweet onion, celery, green pepper, scallions and garlic.
- Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4-quart pot. Add the onion and celery and sauté until the onions are translucent. Reduce the heat slightly and add the green pepper, scallions, basil and oregano. Continue cooking for 5 minutes stirring frequently.
- Increase the heat and add the salt, black pepper, chopped garlic, cod chunks, chopped green olives, the entire can of diced tomatoes and the 2 cups of cold water.
- Bring the stew to a simmer, cover and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook for 45 minutes.
- While the stew is simmering, peel and dice the potatoes. Place the diced potatoes in a bowl & cover with cold water to prevent browning until ready to use.
- After 45 minutes of simmering the stew, drain and add the diced potatoes and the prepared or canned and drained garbanzo beans.
- Return to a simmer. Taste test the stew to check for salt and add more if desired. Cover and simmer the stew for an additional 45 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
- Ladle into bowels and sprinkle with chopped parsley. You may spice it up with hot sauce to taste.
Like with so many stews, you can make this a day ahead of time. Allow the stew to cool for an hour and refrigerate. Gently reheat before serving.
This stew is excellent accompanied with a green salad and a good dry wine such as a Spanish rioja.
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