A Crítica newspaper in Manaus, the largest city in Brazil's Amazonian region, highlights the local-produced "salt cod" made from piracuru, the world's largest fresh-water fish. (Click here to read more about this salt-cod, known in Brazil as bacalhau da Amazônia.) Although this dish was developed by Manaus chef Felipe Schaedler specifically to showcase the recently-introduced Amazonian salt cod, it can easily be adapted to standard salt cod, made from fish found in the North Atlantic. Chef Schaedler was recently named Manaus' chef of the year at the young age of 25 by Veja magazine's Comer & Beber Manaus. Currently, unless you live in the Amazon basin, you'll have to make this substitution, as bacalhau da Amazônia is only available in the region. Soon, however, it should be available elsewhere in Brazil, and potentially in other world markets.
Chef Schaedler combines the fish with local flavorings coconut milk, ginger and orange juice to give the dish a tropical feel. Most traditional Brazilian recipes for salt cod derive from Portuguese originals, and consequently are combined with vegetables that can grow in temperate zones and with seasoning found in European pantries. This modern take on salt cod Brazilianizes it by combining it with flavorings that are tropical in origin. However, in today's global economy, these flavorings are widely available in non-tropical countries, so the ingredients for this dish should not be difficult to source almost anywhere.
RECIPE - Salt Cod with Coconut Milk and Ginger (Bacalhau ao leite de coco e gengibre)
2 lbs (1 kg) good-quality salt cod
extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 red bell-pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, grated, with its juice
4 Tbsp fresh-squeezed orange juice
cilantro or Italian parsley (optional)
Three days before cooking, place the salt cod in a pan or deep platter and cover with fresh cold water. Place in the refrigerator. Twice a day remove the fish from the refrigerator, drain it, cover again with fresh cold water and replace in the fridge. When ready to cook, drain thoroughly, cut into serving sized pieces and reserve.
Preheat the oven to 350F (170C). Place the fish in a roasting pan, drizzle with plenty of extra-virgin olive oil, and roast for about 20-25 minutes, or until the fish begins to brown and is starting to flake.
Meanwhile, in a medium sauce pan, heat a small amount of olive oil, then saute the onions, garlic and red bell peppers until the vegetables are softened but not browned. Add the orange juice, bring to a boil and reduce the liquid by half. Stir in the grated ginger. Add the coconut milk, bring to a boil, reduce slightly to thicken. Reserve.
When the fish is cooked, remove it from the oven. Spread some of the coconut milk-ginger sauce on the bottom of a deep dinner plate, then place a piece of roasted fish on top. You may garnish with a leaf of two of Italian parsley or cilantro. Serve with write rice or mashed potato.