Thursday, April 7, 2011

RECIPE - Salt Cod with Cashew Nut and Herb Crust (Bacalhau com crosta de ervas e castanha de caju)

The Lenten season is as good a time as any for Flavors of Brazil to feature salt cod (bacalhau). Historically, the dietary restrictions imposed by the Church during the 40 days leading up to the holiday of Easter meant that meal options were either vegetarian or fish. And also historically, problems or transport and refrigeration meant that fresh fish was not available to many people. The solution to this problem? Salt cod, which can be kept at room temperature for long periods of time with spoiling. Plus, it only needs refreshing in lots of fresh water to return to an edible state.

Today, transportation and refrigeration problems have diminished drastically for large sectors of the world's population, but people still eat salt cod. Not because they have no alternative, but because they love it. It's especially cherished in communities where there is a strong historical and culinary tradition associated with salt cold - Italy, Spain and Portugal being only some examples. In countries, regions and cities of the New World where these communities exist, so does salt cod.

If you don't happen to have an Italian or Spanish, Mexican or Brazilian background, salt cod might not be in your current culinary vocabulary, but I recommend you try it. You just might surprise yourself and develop a taste for this fish. Properly prepared, the fish is not overly-salty, though it retains a hint of saltiness no matter how long it's been soaked (an extremely light touch with the salt shaker when seasoning it is recommended). Its flesh is substantial and rich but doesn't taste oily or greasy. It combines with all sorts or ingredients in a stew or chowder, yet can stand on its own, only minimally garnished.

Here's a Brazilian recipe for salt cod with a crust consisting of fresh herbs and cashew nuts (castanha de caju). The presence of the nuts alone is enough to signal the recipe's Brazilian origin. In tomorrow's Flavors of Brazil, we'll publish a recipe for a casserole featuring this versatile fish.
RECIPE - Salt Cod with Cashew Nut and Herb Crust (Bacalhau com crosta de ervas e castanha de caju)
Serves 8

salt cod
3 lbs (1.5 kg) good-quality salt cod - thick cut fillets
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 bay leaf
10 sprigs fresh thyme
10 sprigs fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
fresh-ground black pepper to taste

1 medium onion, finely chopped
2/3 cup roasted, unsalted cashew nuts, coarsely chopped
1 cup good-quality bread crumbs
1/2 cup loosely-packed, chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup loosely-packed, chopped green onion
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
48 hours before serving begin to soak the salt cod. Cover it with cold water and refrigerate. Soak for 2 days, changing the water several times a day. Drain the fish.

Place the fish, cut into serving size pieces (see photo) in a large casserole or lasagne dish. Add the garlic cloves, the bay leaf, the thyme and parsley sprigs on top of the fish. Add pepper to taste. Pour the olive oil over then refrigerate the fish for a minimum of 2 hours and a maximum of 12 hours.

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) then roast the fish, in its casserole or lasagne dish for approximately 30 minutes, or until the fish is tender and just begins to flake. Remove from the oven, discard the herbs, remove and save the garlic, then reserve the fish, keeping it warm. Peel the garlic cloves, then mash them, reserve.

While the fish is cooking, heat a good quantity olive oil in a large heavy frying pan, then add the chopped onion and fry until the onion is lightly golden. Add the mashed, roasted garlic, the chopped cashew nuts and the bread crumbs and stir to coat all the ingredients with oil. If the mixture is too dry, add more oil, but not so much as to make a paste. Stir in the chopped parsley and green onion.

Cover each piece of fish with several spoonsful of the cashew mixture, covering the top entirely. Return the fish to the oven and cook for an additional 15-20 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and crunchy.

Serve immediately.

Recipe translated and adapted from

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