Monday, January 25, 2010

Salt cod (bacalao)

I was getting a bit tired of my old "recipe plus anecdote" formula, so this year I've decided to make my blog a bit more free-flowing. There will be recipes too, of course, but I'm also planning to include some kitchen projects, the occasional restaurant review (I will be starting with my favourite spots in Cadiz), some bits and pieces about my local market, and a fair amount of disconnected rambling. I'm also going to try to find space to write about ingredients, to which I'll add a link to any relevant postings elsewhere on my blog.

I thought I'd start with salt cod, mainly because I got a comment from a friend who had a large piece of salt cod in her freezer. I should begin by admitting that I've only actually cooked salt cod myself once before, and it was so long ago I can't remember what I did with it so this will be a learning process for me, too.

Salt cod, as the name suggests, is salted cod, and is widely consumed in Scandinavia, and across Mediterranean Europe, as well as in the Caribbean and down the coast of West Africa. It comes in various grades (almost fresh to dry as a board) and forms (whole fillets, sticks, flakes) and ranges from being quite similar to fresh cod once it has been desalted, to remaining intensely fishy and salty.

One of the reasons I've never bought bacalao in Spain before is that it in Cadiz is sold not in the fish market but in delis. Because I only really go to my local deli to buy ham and salami, I am always wearing my meat hat, not my fish one. [Please, please click the link - I promise you won't regret it!] As a result, I forget that my deli has a large fridge stuffed full of top-grade bacalao. (The photo above was taken on my mobile phone when wandering around the Boqueria Market in Barcelona where, apparently, bacalao is allowed into the market. Strangely enough, when I got back to Cadiz my butcher seemed to have opened up a sideline in bacalao, too. Very confusing!)

Before you do anything to salt cod, you have to desalt it and rehydrate it. To do this, you should rinse it very thoroughly under running cold water, until you have washed all the salt off the fish, then put the fish in a large bowl of cold water, and keep in the fridge for at least 3 days, changing the water a couple of times a day.

bacalao al pil pil
bacalao, chick peas, chorizo and green beans
spaghetti with salt cod, chick peas and green pepper
salt cod mayonnaise

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Tuna and cannellini beans with lemon and bay leaves

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have just bought a copy of Rick Stein's Seafood Odyssey, and am aiming to up my fish cookery as a result. I like Rick Stein's cooking, although I find his on-screen persona a little stiff at times (and if I ever see that awful woman he had on his Naples programme again I may have to shoot myself). Anyway, his personality works much better in writing, and some of the things which feel a bit forced on the TV are fine on the page. This recipe comes from one in his book, although I was in a rush this morning so had to make it with tinned tuna and a jar of beans, instead of using fresh fish and dried beans. The plus side was that it only took about 10 minutes from start to finish and still tasted great. I may make the proper version at some point, but I suspect that I have already classified this under "fast food" in my head.

150g tinned tuna
400g tin of cannellini beans
plenty of olive oil (about 5 fl oz)
6 bay leaves
1/4 lemon
2 leeks
4 cloves of garlic

  1. Peel and thinly slice the leeks and garlic, then add to a large heavy-based pan with the olive oil.
  2. Once the leeks have softened, add the bay leaves, fry for 30 seconds or so, add the drained beans and the salt. Squeeze the lemon juice over the beans, and add the squeezed lemon quarter to the pot, stir well, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
  3. Add the tuna, stir to mix, heat through for a minute or two and serve.

Tinned delights
Our attitudes to tinned food are a bit mixed. When tins first appeared, they often contained luxury items (quail in aspic, and that kind of thing!). Now we tend to be a bit suspicious of them. They are deemed okay for some things - tomatoes, baked beans, chick peas - but dodgy for others. Perhaps inevitably, these attitudes vary quite a lot between the UK and Spain. In Spain, chick peas, and pulses generally, usually come in glass jars, while fresh tomatoes are always preferred to tinned.

Tuna is a case in point. I was brought up to view tinned tuna as scarcely better than cat food, but I have come to appreciate its convenience. (I am still not keen on it when it is added to tomato sauces and cooked, at which point it turns rather dry and loses all its appeal.) A couple of years ago my in-laws gave my parents some very good tinned bonito (a large member of the mackerel family). As far as I know it is still lurking at the bottom of their cupboard. I must dig it out next time I visit and see if I convince them of its virtues.

Moving house (again!)

No new recipes, yet, as I've been in the throes of moving house, again. (I did think about posting the baked beans with chilli, coriander and lemon juice I made yesterday, but I was too hungry to take photos. Maybe next time.) I make this house number five of the last twelve months. As you can imagine, I'm getting a little sick of packing and unpacking boxes and am hoping that the next move we make will be into a flat of our own. In the meantime, I guess one just has to make the best of things, and I shouldn't complain too much as the flat itself is large, in good condition, and bang in the middle of Cadiz. Perhaps inevitably, the kitchen is on the small side, at the end of a long corridor (which keeps me fit, especially when delivering pancakes to the living/dining room) and has an oven which, as yet, doesn't work. (My third broken oven of the last year - is someone doing this on purpose?)

Anyway, my resolution for this year is to be a bit more adventurous with my fish cookery. With kids it's always tempting to go for fillets in order to avoid having to deal with bones. But my kids are now 8 (next week) and 6, and I think they're old enough to cope with the occasional bone or shell. Having watched Rick Stein's Seafood Odyssey on DVD last year while stranded in inland Tuscany with no fresh fish available at all, I have now bought a copy of the book of the series, and am planning to cook my way through the Cadiz fish market. A few of the things I fancy trying are:
  • shark vindaloo
  • Singapore chilli crab
  • steamed stuffed squid with sweet chilli sauce
  • squid, mint and coriander salad with roasted rice
  • mussels with cannellini beans.

I'm also hoping to finally get round to using salt cod, and to explore some of the tuna recipes in "El libro del atĂșn y su cocina".

Oven news
I am rather embarrassed to have to admit that, since posting this, my oven has been "fixed". I just turned the little dial from the picture of the crossed out alarm bell to the picture of the hand. I guess these symbols mean "timed cooking off" and "manual" and it only took me two weeks to work it out. No job for me at Bletchley Park, then.

More oven news
My embarrassment has turned to self-righteous anger (or at least smug mild annoyance). It turns out that the oven was indeed broken. When I tried to use it, it kept blowing the fuses for the entire house, which I guess was why it had been left on the "timed cooking off" setting in the first place. Hmm. Particularly annoying as I had a tray of focaccia dough ready and waiting to go.

A friend in need
Fortunately, at this point I remembered our friends, Lesley and Pedro Pablo, who live just round the corner. I gave them a ring and asked if I could "borrow" their oven for half an hour. I love having friends who I can ask for favours of this sort without feeling I am imposing on them. The focaccia came out looking great, and Pedro put on his finest girn to pose with it.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Roast potatoes

There is a lot of debate about how to produce the "perfect" roast potato, much of it spurious. This is my method - cut your potatoes smallish, parboil them, roast them for a long time in plenty of hot oil (goose fat is great, otherwise I use olive oil). The potato variety is important too. Arran Victory 1918 are great, but not exactly widely available. In general, you want floury rather than waxy. I also like to chuck in a few cloves and some sprigs of rosemary.


2 kg of floury potatoes
8 garlic cloves
4 sprigs of rosemary
olive oil

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut them into quarters (or smaller if the potatoes are large).
  2. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, parboil the potatoes for ten minutes, strain off the water and shake the potatoes in the pan a little to bash them around a bit. (But don't go over the top!)
  3. Heat the oven to 180oC, put a large roasting tray or two in the oven, with plenty of oil in them.
  4. When the oil is hot, add the potatoes, sprinkle plenty of salt and pepper over them, add the unpeeled garlic cloves and rosemary sprigs, and roast for 1.5 hours, turning halfway through and checking from time to time to make sure they are not burning.