Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fish stories

Don A down in Florida helpfully provided a list of baccala recipes. The one below looks pretty much like the one Grandmon L and Aunt Mary R used to make on Christmas Eve, and which Angela made more recently, but without the green olives, capers and pignolis which are only appropriate if Don Corleone is coming to visit. There are some other interesting looking baccala recipes on the document Don sent me. If you want the full list send me an email or leave your email address in a comment.

A warning - If you decide to make this or anything else with baccala you need to remember, as I often haven't, that two pounds of dried salted cod is a lot, a very lot. After you soak it, it will swell up like a monster set loose in Phoenixville into something like four or five pounds of fish. I think this recipe must mean two pounds after it's been soaked; so it's a recipe intended for maybe half of one of the hard as wood dried cod fillets that you find being sold right out of the wooden box in a proper market.

One time I showed up at Mom and Pop's house with three dried cod fillets of which I was pretty proud because I had ignored the dirty looks of the clerk and leafed through the fillets in the box just like Mom used to do to get the ones with the thickest thick ends. Pop, who didn't like baccala, took one look at the maybe six pounds of dried cod and said, "What the hell are you gonna do with all of that damned stuff." Mom just laughed. As I recall she kept one of the fillets to use for Christmas Eve and one for later and sent me home with the third along with instructions about how to soak it. So me and Linda had a second Christmas Eve, at least from a baccala standpoint, in late January of that year. Come to think of it I made the red baccala that year myself, so Mom must have said something like, 'soak the fish, fry some garlic in olive oil, put in a can of chopped tomatoes, some potatoes and some raisins and cook it 'til it's done.'

You need to start forty eight hours before you plan to cook the fish by putting the dried fillet in a big pot of cold water. Bend it or cut it in half if need be so it's fully submerged and put the pot in the refrigerator. Change the cold water at least twice and finally change it again before boiling the now swelled up and soft fish. The fact that the whole house will smell like a Portuguese fishing boat for a day or so after you boil it is part of the fun, it adds atmosphere. The fish ends up looking pure and white, surprisingly like fresh fish, given that it starts out yellow and fibrous; but it has more body, more texture and bite, than fresh fish.

I'm always amazed that only me and Sam and Angela really look forward to the red bacalla on Christmas Eve. The rest of the family at best tolerates it and at worst takes Pop's attitude. Pop never met a fish he really liked even though he liked to fish when he was younger.

This classic bacalla dish includes potatoes and green olives, found in many sicilian dishes
2 lbs of bacalla (soaked, cleaned & deboned)
1 cup of olive oil
2 med onions - sliced
2 celery stalks - sliced
4 tomatoes - peeled, seeded and chopped
1 lb potatoes - peeled
10 green olives - pitted
2 tbls capers
2 tbls pignoli nuts
4 tbls raisins
Heat the oil in a deep skillet or sauce pan/saute the onions & celery and cook till softened/add the tomatoes and 1/2 cup of warm water/bring to a slow simmer/cut the bacalla into fairly large uniform pieces/cut potatoes into quarters/add the bacalla, potatoes, and the rest of the ingredients to the pot & simmer for 30-40 minutes


NOMAD said...

this sounds quite good !

also, it never tastes like the fresh one, but it became a billionaire menu these past years because of its rarety

Sully said...

The codfish we get in our markets is always frozen, or it was frozen and the market thawed it. That makes sense because they catch codfish out at sea and the only way they could send it fresh would be to fly it from the fishing boat with a helicopter.

I agree that the dried cod is very different tasting than the frozen. It is also more solid and a little chewy - I don't have the right word except to say it has more texture.

Here is is actually less expensive than fresh fish when you remember that it swells up to almost triple the weight after it soaks. I just bought dried bacalla for $10.99 per pound. Frozen codfish in blocks costs at least $4.00 per pound and fresh fish costs usually $5.99 or $6.99. Those prices are for farm raised tilapia, trout, salmon and catfish. Fresh wild caught fish cost a lot more.

NOMAD said...

I remember when I was younger we used to have them as common fish, now they are really expensive, even frozen, they come from Norvege.
Only gastronomic restaurants would have served them fresh.

Ever tasted fresh hering filets just a minut in hot water?
with boiled potateoes and butter,plus, a good beer glass (pils) ?

Sully said...

I don't think I've ever seen fresh herring in our markets, maybe because they are fished in the Baltic, so it would be hard to tramsport them here.