The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Kids Make Portuguese Salt Cod Casserole

December 4th, 2010 · 3 Comments · Posted in Ethnic, kids, Recipes

Salt cod from China? A tradition lives on....

Before refrigeration, fisherman plying the rich Atlantic waters off Canada dried and salted their harvest of cod. The cod are mostly gone, but the tradition lives on, nowhere more so than in Portugal, where there are said to exist at least 1,000 recipes for preparing salt cod.

Salt cod isn’t exactly a convenience food. You have to soak it at least 24 hours in several changes of water to remove the salt and rehydrate the flesh. But I couldn’t very well take my food appreciation classes to Portugal on our virtual world culinary tour without sampling at least one salt cod dish, and this casserole–simple as it is–remains a classic.

The first order of business is finding the salt cod. I purchased mine at our neighborhood Harris Teeter where it comes pre-boned in this nifty wooden box. I’d never heard of salt cod from China before. But perhaps that’s where they’re sending the fish these days to be processed. You can also find it in ethnic groceries, any catering to Latin, African or southern European clientele are a good bet. Normally I wouldn’t think of eating Atlantic cod. It’s been so overfished, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program advises consumers to stay away from it. But you can’t very well make a traditional Portuguese salt cod dish without it.

To make enough to feed a family of four, soak 8 ounces salt cod in a covered container, refrigerated, for 24 hours, changing the water every three times. Remove the cod and place it in a heavy pot, cover it with boiling water and cook over moderately low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the fish flakes apart with a fork. Drain the fish and when it is cool enough to handle, break it into small pieces with your fingers, removing any bones and skin. Set aside.

Meanwhile, peel 1 pound boiling potatoes, such as Yukon gold. Cut the potatoes into quarters lengthwise, then cut these pieces into 1/4-inch slices. Cook the potato slices in plenty of salted, boiling water until just tender. Drain well in a colander.

While the potatoes are draining, brown one yellow onion, cut in half and sliced thinly, in extra-virgin olive oil at the bottom of a heavy, oven-proof skillet. When the onions have caramelized and smell quite delicious, remove them from the skillet and brown the potatoes in the same fashion, adding more olive oil as needed.

Remove potatoes from the heat. Add the browned onions back to the skillet along with the flaked fish and a small handful of chopped fresh parsley leaves. Toss everything together and place in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or until the fish has lightly browned and the casserole is sizzling hot. Garnish with pitted, oil-marinated black olives, chopped hard-boiled egg and a little more chopped parsley.

This makes a simple supper, but oh so good. And there’s plenty of handwork–slicing onions and potatoes, flaking fish, pulling parsley leaves–for the kids to do. Just be sure to have extra olives on hand. The kids really go for those.

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  • Marc

    Is it possible that the fish is not the classic cod (Atlantic, Gadus morhua), but Pacific cod (Gadus macrocephalus)? FDA’s list of “market names” for fish allows Pacific cod to be called simply “cod” (but those rules might apply only to fresh fish). And fish sellers are notoriously vague about what they are selling, and fish terminology can be confusing. Although it would be confusing at first, it would be great to see scientific names on all fish packages so that buyers can make more informed decisions.

    I imagine that the cod is caught in a factory trawler, cleaned, filleted, and flash frozen for storage until the ship reaches land. Then the fish is shipped to a drying facility in China, where it is dried and packed. I doubt that it can be dried on the ship, as that takes significant time and energy. With on-board flash freezing technology on the large fishing ships, fish can be moved all over the world for processing where labor costs are lowest.

  • Ed Bruske

    I don’t know, Marc. I may call the company. The salt fish industry has been concentrated in the Canadian maritimes for a long time, and this company has been specializing in salted fish for several decades at least. I can’t imagine how this has moved to the Pacific. So how China gets involved is a mystery.

  • Lunenburg

    I live in Lunenburg, NS. Home of the world renowned National Sea Products Ltd., “which made the Highliner brand” and now calls itself Highliner Inc. before the cod moratorium that the Canadian gov’t placed in the early ’80s there use to be at least 20 fishing trawlers in the front harbour of Lunenburg. Now there is none. Highliner chose to sell the trawlers or land them in St. Pierre and Miquelon off of Newfoundland, because they were fishing France’s cod quota and shipping it to Lunenburg to be processed. this cut cost such as a 48 steam from Lunenburg compared to a day and a 14 -16 trip to a 4-6 day trip, eventually the fish pretty just shipped to Lunenburg to be processed and shipped to world markets. not sure if Highliner looked in the Asian Market for processing, but another company in NS “Clearwater Seafood” does.