This very simple preparation depends on two things: a few perfect ingredients and a sure hand. Once tried, you’ll see how easy it is to get the cod to swirl in the cazuela as the oil and natural gelatin from the skin and bones create a smooth textured sauce, lightly scented with garlic and chilli. The naturally sweet cod, the remnants of the salty sea and smoky chilli pepper combine to exemplify the elegance of Basque cooking.
Note for New Zealand readers: Salt cod as Kate describes is not available in New Zealand unfortunately. However, it is possible and in fact quite easy to create a suitable form of salted fish yourself. Take as much fish as you require (my preference is blue cod, but other white fish such as snapper is suitable too) and wash and dry it well. I usually use skinned and boned fillets, but for this recipe have the cod filleted but leave some bones in and the skin on. Rub the fish generously with sea salt and place on a stainless or plastic rack over a tray. Cover well and refrigerate overnight or up to 48 hours. The longer you leave it the firmer and dryer the fish will become as the salt draws the moisture out. To de-salt, rinse the fish well under running water and soak in fresh water for 1-2 hours, depending on how long it has been salting. By then it will look like fresh fish again, but with firmer flesh
1 kilo salt cod, skin on – desalted (see notes below)
3⁄4 cup olive oil
6 garlic cloves, sliced
1⁄2 teaspoon dried piment d’espelette or chilli flakes
Drain and dry the salt cod.
Heat the olive oil, garlic slices and chili in a traditional cazuela (a round shallow earthenware casserole) over high heat. As the garlic starts to brown, remove it from the pan with half the oil and set aside.
Place the fish, skin side up, in the pan and turn the heat down to medium. Using a circular shaking motion, swirl the cod every 2-3 minutes for a few seconds. The liquid from the cod and oil will begin to emulsify and form a creamy white sauce. Continue cooking and shaking until the cod is cooked enough that the flesh starts to flake.
Increase the heat to medium high and add the rest of the oil and garlic slowly, shaking until the sauce has completely emulsified – just a few more minutes. Serves 4-6
Notes on de-salting cod: The better cuts of salt cod are thick and moist, like the loin of beef or pork. Dried, thin board- like slabs of air-dried cod are called stockfish and are not suitable for this preparation. To desalt a thick centre cut of salt cod take four days: soak in a large bowl of fresh water in the refrigerator or outside in winter for two days changing the water once a day; change the water twice a day for the next two days.
This results in a moist, fresh piece of fish perfect for pan sautéing. Thinner slices or small pieces of cod need only 24-48 hours to de-salt.