Thursday, December 24, 2009
Salt Cod (baccalà)
Better know an ingredient: Salt Cod (baccalà)
Salt cod is exactly what it says: cod that has been salted, that's it. Types and quality vary drastically - the main difference is whether or not the fish has been deboned or not. The second big difference is thickness. The thicker cuts are usually more expensive. The amount of salt and how dry the fish is also dictate price. If you are shopping for salt cod, you are looking for a deboned, thick piece of salt cod that has a little bit of give to it. If its hard as a rock, you can use it, its just going to take longer to rehydrate.
Unlike most fish advice, salt cod does sometimes have a fishy smell to it, but it should NOT be overpowering. Fresh cod should smell like the ocean and nothing more. Dried, salt cod is going to have the same saline thing going on, but also smell fish-like but not as strong as Thai fish sauce. Its a fine line, but a line to be sure.
If you are very lucky, you can come across an entire side of salt cod, which isn't cheap but if it looks good, and has a little bit of a bend to it, snap it up! It can be stored in a cool dry place for several weeks - but if you aren't going to use it right away, its a good idea to freeze it till you are ready to cook.
Rehydrating the fish
So much like country ham, salt cod needs to be rehydrated. All you need is a container large enough to contain the piece(s) of salt cod, plus room for them to expand, and water. Depending on the size of the fish and the amount of salt in the product, you will need to let it soak from 12-24 hours. If your fish is on the larger size, you will want to change the water out at least once. Before you cook with it - and yes, you need to cook it thoroughly - its a good idea to rinse the fish off.
What ever your final culinary destination, remember to reconsider salt. Its a good idea to hold off on adding salt until after you have added and cooked the rehydrated salt cod.
That all said... some recipes call for cooking with salt cod as is, no rehydrating necessary. If you are using a small amount, it will season an entire pot of ingredients (think of it like bacon seasoning greens).