One French Word: morue, a recipe for Morue à la portugaise (salt cod and potatoes as they cook it in Portugal)
Cod, fresh or especially salted and/or dried, has long been a staple of the peoples living along the Atlantic coast of Europe (and probably of America and Canada too). Now cod is becoming rare, but in the last couple of centuries, men in rather small boats would leave on extended trips to colder waters around Iceland and Newfoundland, braving dangerous seas and foul weather, to earn a living catching this precious fish. Nowadays trawlers are small factories, with freezers. Then the fish was gutted, spread open, salted and dried, and the result was a sort of elongated triangular board.
It is still sold like that, the cook must soak it for days to ready it for cooking. But it is also sold rehydrated in vacuum packs, which only need soaking for a matter of hours to rid it of excess salt. The taste is quite different from fresh cod and the Portuguese especially are past masters at preparing it.
One of the most famous and delicious dishes using salt cod is the French Caribbean recipe for accras de morue, crispy mouthfuls of fiery fish and chili, which I shall certainly publish here one of these days. And brandade de morue, a sort of garlicky mixture of mashed potato and salt cod.
The French language bit:
morue (feminine noun), une morue, la morue, les morues = salt cod
Fresh cod, that has not been salted, is cabillaud (le cabillaud, du cabillaud), a fillet of cod is un filet de cabillaud, a slice of cod is une darne de cabillaud, a nice fat chunk from the back of the fish is du dos de cabillaud.
De l’huile de foie de morue = cod liver oil
Un pinceau queue de morue = a broad flat brush used by painters (literally cod’s tail paintbrush)
My recipe today is for morue à la portugaise, a dish of baked cod layered with a little tomato and a lot of potato, the top layer of which crisps up beautifully in the oven. It should be eaten as soon as it is cooked, it does not re-heat well especially because the potato loses its crackle.
Ingredients for 4-6 people:
- 400gr salt cod
- 600gr potatoes
- 1 hard boiled egg per person
- 2 medium onions, finely sliced
- 3 cloves of garlic, crushed with a cleaver and roughly chopped
- A little tomato sauce (optional) (homemade, or in a jar, spaghetti sauce with olives is what I used)
- A dozen stoned black olives (unless they are already in your tomato sauce)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Olive oil
- Mixed chopped herbs to garnish
You should need NO salt
- Soak the pieces of cod for about 10 hours changing the water regularly (unless you have found already de-salted cod). Carry out this stage carefully; nothing worse than going to all this trouble only to find your dish is too salty to eat.
- Tear the cod into large bite-sized pieces or strips.
- Pre-heat the oven at 180°C.
- Wash the potatoes (no need to peel them) and cut into very fine slices (1mm or 2 thick).
- Fry the onion in a little olive oil until transparent, add the pieces of cod, stir and turn off the heat.
- Coat the bottom of a casserole dish with a little olive oil.
- Place a good layer of potatoes in the bottom of the dish. Pour all the cod and onion mixture on top, and add the crushed chopped garlic and a spoonful of olive oil.
- Grind some black pepper over this mixture, and sprinkle the olives and tomato sauce sparingly over the top.
- Place another layer of potato on top of this, and end with an artistic layer, carefully overlapping the slices.
- Dribble about 3tbs olive oil over the whole top layer. (The Portuguese put much more than this!)
- Pop the dish into the oven for about 45 minutes. The top layer of potato should be browned and very crispy.
- While the cod is cooking, hardboil an egg per person, shell and slice.
- Serve piping hot with crusty bread, green salad, and slices of hard boiled egg (optional but this is the way it is done in Portugal), sprinkled with fresh herbs.
This is not an expensive dish, the only difficulty being to remember to start soaking the salt cod well enough ahead of time.