You have probably already guessed that I decided to work on Indian cooking this Lent. But I also wanted to finally do something with salt cod. Salt cod features prominently in Portuguese, Spanish, and Basque cooking, and through the former was introduced to New England, which is probably one reason it's displayed at my local supermarket. Because of its shelf life, it's also not much of a gamble to carry it as long as it sells eventually, something the same supermarket can't say of crabs or monkfish.
As far as I can remember, I've only had salt cod in croquettes, where it reminded me of fishcakes. I decided to start with brandade, partly to finish off the leftover mashed potatoes.
Salt cod is just cod that's been preserved with salt. It's dry and not very flexible. You soak it in the fridge for at least overnight and as long as a few days, changing the water at least twice a day. I soaked it from Thursday night to Sunday morning - it ended up being mild enough (and not overwhelmingly salty) that I'm sure a day less would have been fine, and cooking it Friday night might have even been a possibility had I changed the water more frequently.
Soaking the salt cod plumps it back up, but it's still going to be firmer than fresh cod. Brandade recipes vary, as with most salt cod recipes, you cook the soaked salt cod before incorporating it into the dish. This further desalinates it.
My salt cod fillet didn't have bones or skin, so I didn't need to remove those. I've heard that salt cod skin can be very pungent and unpleasant; no personal experience to report there.
The brandade is simply a combination of mashed potatoes and flaked salt cod. You mash the potatoes and then fold the salt cod in small flakes into it. Like I said, recipes vary - most use both olive oil and cream in the mashed potatoes, but the only olive oil I have on hand at the moment is coffee olive oil, which we'll talk about another time. Although it's good for fish, I didn't want to use it my first time making brandade. So I used cream and the last of the sage/garlic brown butter that I had been using with gnudi - the brown flecks you see in the brandade are brown butter solids. There are also onions which had cooked in the butter.
The brandade isn't overwhelmingly fishy at all, no more than fish cakes or the like. We had it spread on onion naan. It's fairly heavy, and I wish I'd had salad greens - baby spinach and romaine with a garlicky lemony anchovy dressing would have been perfect.