Growing up, George Mendes hated salt cod, but now as chef of Aldea in New York City it’s become a centerpiece of his cooking.
He says that the key to great salt cod is all about perfecting the fermentation process. See his recipe for salt cod with potato and egg casserole below from his new book My Portugal: Recipes and Stories.
Basic Salt Cod with Potato and Egg Casserole
Salt Cod, Potato, and Egg Casserole
BACALHAU À GOMES DE SÁ
When I developed this recipe for the book, I couldn’t stop digging into the Dutch oven and downing it by the forkful. I stuck to tradition here because you can’t beat the delicious, comforting classic mix of sweet onions and potatoes with savory salt cod and olives pressed into a homey casserole.
Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
White onions 2 small, quartered and very thinly sliced
Garlic cloves 6, thinly sliced
Fresh bay leaves 2, notches torn every half inch (12 mm)
Kosher salt and freshly
Ground black pepper to taste
Basic Salt Cod (see below) 2 ounces (360 g),
Flaked into half inch (12-mm) pieces
Yukon gold potatoes 2 large
Pitted Kalamata olives one half cup, sliced crosswise,
Plus more for garnish
Hard-boiled eggs 2 large, peeled and
Cut into one third-inch (8-mm) slices
Fresh parsley leaves one fourth cup (7 g), very finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 325°F (165°C) with an oven rack set 6 inches (15 cm) from the broiler and one set in the center.
Heat a small (4-quart/3.8-L) cocotte or Dutch oven over medium heat. Coat the bottom with oil. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, and a big pinch of salt. Stir well, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are golden brown and very tender, about 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, cover the salt cod with oil in a medium skillet. Heat over medium heat, stirring gently, until heated through, about 1 minute.
Peel the potatoes and use a mandoline to cut them lengthwise into one sixteenth-inch (2-mm) slices. Don’t rinse them; you want all that starch.
Transfer the onions to a bowl. Discard the bay leaves. Coat the bottom of the cocotte with oil and sprinkle salt and pepper over the oil. Cover the bottom of the cocotte with a layer of potatoes, overlapping the slices slightly. Season with salt, then cover with a thin layer of the onions and 1 tablespoon of the olives. Now layer potatoes, salt, pepper, oil, onions, salt, olives, and 1 cup (180 g) of the salt cod. Use a spatula to press down hard on the layers. Top with a layer of the egg slices, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with pepper, and add another layer of potatoes. Press hard again. For the final layering: add salt, oil, pepper, and the last of the onions, olives, salt cod, egg slices, and potatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with oil, and press down hard with your hand to get it as compact and even as possible.
Cover and bake on the center rack until the top is lightly browned and the potatoes are tender, 35 to 40 minutes. Spoon out any excess oil, then sprinkle with the parsley and more sliced olives. Adjust the oven to the broil setting. Broil the casserole until the top is golden brown. Let cool slightly before cutting into pieces.
Basic Salt Cod
Makes 3 Pounds
By curing cod yourself, you get the delicate sweetness of the fish under an intense savory richness and smooth-as-butter texture. It requires only two ingredients and a little patience and planning. Do it: It’s a revelation.
kosher salt 1.5 pounds (680 g)
Whole skin-on cod fillet 4.25 pounds (1.9 kg), 1.5 inches (4 cm) thick, bones removed
Four days before serving, spread a half inch (12 mm) of the salt in a 6-inch- (15-cm-) deep container. Place the cod on top, skin-side down, and cover it with the remaining salt, patting it against the top and sides of the fish. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 48 hours. Occasionally tip out excess moisture that’s been released and evenly distribute the salt around the cod again.
Rinse the cod under cold running water, then rinse out the container. Return the cod to the container and cover it with cold water. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days, changing the water every 16 hours. Because the saltiness of the fish can vary, I start tasting it after 2 days. I want a slight salinity and will drain the cod when it’s where I want it. Remember that you’ll be using the cod in other dishes that you’ll season again, so you don’t want it to be too salty. Drain the cod well and use immediately.