For those who were not here last week, I finally got to open my box of salt cod and felt like throwing a party!! The box was set in my fridge since December and if I tell you it is my favorite ingredient on the planet you would think I have lost my mind.
Well, I am not insane, that’s just how crazy things were this past month. But I won’t talk about it again……ops, I just did, didn’t I?
Forget it, let’s focus, the matter now is bacalhau (the Portuguese word for salt cod). I can smile just by pronouncing the word: BA-CA-LHAU. It’s, really, my favorite flavor and when well prepared bacalhau transcends everything.
But it is not like I ate it every day, in a regular basis. No, salt cod is not a current item in Brazilians grocery baskets. Almost everything is imported from Norway or Portugal so, it can be crazy expensive, the kind of food you eat on special occasions. But little did I know, after all those years complaining about the astronomic prices of bacalhau, that my biggest problem here would be finding it instead of paying for.
I bought a “salt cod style” fish once at some Latin grocery store but it was such a poor quality product that I just gave up. Furthermore, I visited Brazil a couple times and got to feed my addiction. The one I used here was found at Whole Foods, a product of Canada, reasonably good. Hope they keep selling it!!
And before you say anything I have to tell, it’s not the prettiest food, I agree. And probably it’s one of the least fragrant ingredients you can work with. But please, give it a chance. Do you remember all those times your mom asked you to eat eggplant?? Did you fight with all your forces and now you regret with all your soul?? So, salt cod will be just like that.
Besides, preparing salt cod is easier than you think. Since it’s kind of cured in a lot of salt, salt cod has to be soaked in water before anything. A good advice is to rinse it a few times before soaking, getting rid of all visible salt. It took me less than 24 hours to desalt three 1-inch thick pieces of fish. Simply rinse, place fish in a bowl of cold water and set on the fridge for 24 hours, changing the water a couple times.
It can be cooked in a lot of different ways too. For this recipe, a deep fried ravioli or “pastel de bacalhau” (one of the sensations of the Municipal Market), we are baking the fish in olive oil, kind of a confit style. It just drives me nuts when I see recipes asking you to soak the poor fish into hot water and let it boil for a few minutes. Usually, after boiling most of the flavor is gone. Don’t do that ok? Unless you are going to use the water on the recipe.
Take desalted cod out of the water and let it rest in a strainer for about 5 minutes.
Place fish in a small skillet making a single layer. Add a pinch of freshly ground black pepper, bay leave and a sprig of parsley. Add olive oil and cover slightly with foil. Bake for about 25 minutes at 350˚F.
Drain fish, discard parsley, bay leave and shred the meat when it is still hot. Set aside.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a medium skillet. Sauté onions and garlic for about 2 minutes.
Add shred cod, chopped green onions and chopped parsley. Turn of the heat, add cream cheese and mix well until everything is incorporated. Check salt and pepper and set it aside to chill (use when it’s completely cold).
Heat enough oil in a medium saucepan. Prepare a small bowl of water for brushing and sealing the raviolis and place it on your work space.
Put about 2 tsp of cod filling in the middle of a wonton wrapper, making sure to leave plenty of room around the edges. Brush the edges of the wrapper with water and immediately place another wrapper on top and press down on all sides, squeezing out any excess air. Pinch the edges closed with the tines of a fork. Repeat until you run out of filling.
Deep fry the raviolis until golden and crispy flipping over to get the back nice and golden also. Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Serve hot with tapenade sauce.
It can sound funny or wrong but I called it a tapenade sauce anyway. Tapenade is more like a paste, something that can be spread on a toast. Mine is much more liquid and mild, with just a few nuances of olive; enough to bring the cod flavor to the next level though.
It can be made by hand, using a pestle or a food processor. Just cut, press or process the first 5 ingredients together adding olive oil time by time. Make sure to leave some little chunks of olives, you don’t want an olive puree. Check salt, usually olives have enough and you don’t need to add it.
You can also adjust the amount of olive oil and make it even more liquid. You can also keep it in the fridge and use on top of steaks or grilled/roasted chicken.