Brandade (salt cod) au Gratin

Puree of salt cod, garlic & potato emulsified with olive oil

There is much to know about the cod. Mark Kurlansky in his book, Cod: the Biography of a Fish that Changed the World, has given me a lot of food for thoughts and conversations. Mark Kurlansky tells the tales of cod in the context of human history and enterprise. For about six hundred years, wars have been fought over the cod, revolutions have been triggered by it, national diets have been based on it, and economies and livelihoods have depended on it. More details on the book can be found here.

When the Basque whalers in the Middle Ages applied to cod the salting techniques they were using on whale, they discovered a particularly good marriage because the cod is virtually without fat. If salted and dried well, it would rarely spoil. It was a fascinating piece of history and a miracle comparable to the discovery of the fast-freezing process in the twentieth century, which also debuted with cod. Not only did cod last longer than other salted fish, but it tasted better too. Once dried or salted and then properly restored through soaking, this fish presents a flaky flesh that to many tastes superior to the bland white meat of fresh cod.

Kurlansky surveys history from a cod point of view. Cod preserved en masse became food for the masses. The salty stuff sustained the Vikings and large populations throughout Europe during the Middle Ages. And when explorers began claiming territories in the New World, cod became the food that fed colonialism.

However, there is no happy ending to the tales of this once prolific and most profitable fish in history; cod is now faced with extinction.

Served with freshly-baked bread

 

Brandade, a puree of salt cod, olive oil and milk, is a specialty of Languedoc and Provence regions in France, and Catalonia and other Mediterranean countries. Potato was added in brandade, as filler mostly, as cod prices skyrocketed. Jaques Pepin’s brandade au gratin is my introduction and guide to working with the salt cod.

Brandade is an ordinary and humble dish made from the salt cod — beset with the most extraordinary biography and history. A conversation topic that’d undoubtedly enliven any party! Make sure to check out the food party scene at full swing at IHCC this week.

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3 Comments

  • Reply
    Zosia
    June 20, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    I could go for some of that, especially with the homemade bread. The book sounds like an interesting perspective of the history of cod. Our stocks off the coast of Newfoundland are finally rebounding, decades after the Canadian government moratorium on cod fishing, but they'll never be what they once were.

  • Reply
    Kim
    June 22, 2015 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you for such an interesting and informative post about cod. I knew that salt cod was a very regional dish, but never knew of the history behind it. This is definitely a party worthy dish, and you are correct, a perfect conversation piece. I would love to sneak a bite with some of your beautiful bread. Love the pics!

  • Reply
    flour.ish.en
    June 22, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    That is good news on the growing stock of cods in Newfoundland. Thanks!

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