Homemade Salt Cod with Root Vegetables

The story of how a fish from the icy northern seas became a staple ingredient across the sunny south has been told before, probably best in Mark Kurlansky’s book Cod. It’s fascinating, but just as interesting is how the various Mediterranean cultures make such tasty dishes from the leathery salted cod.

Most have a traditional spread made with the rehydrated fish. Baccala mantecato in Italy, Spain’s cazuela de bacalao, and brandade in southern France share the same basic approach and ingredients. Soak and cook the fish, combine with extra virgin olive oil, garlic, and usually potatoes. I made a version using a couple of my favorite root vegetables, celery root and sweet potatoes, that add other flavor notes.

You can find salt cod if you look hard, but it’s easy to make your own. Cover true cod filets with salt (kosher is fine; use at least 2-3 tablespoons for each pound of fish), put in a glass dish or plastic bag, and leave in the refrigerator overnight. Rinse, then soak in cold water for another night, changing the water a couple of times. Simmer the filets gently in water for about 20 minutes, drain and cool, then flake, removing any bones as you go.

For about a pound of fish, peel and cube a yellow potato, medium celery root, and white-fleshed sweet potato (less sweet than the orange-fleshed varieties). Simmer together in a little white wine until tender. Mash coarsely.

Dice a medium onion and cook in extra virgin olive oil until completely translucent, about 15-20 minutes; do not brown. Add 4-5 chopped garlic cloves and cook for another few minutes.

Combine everything in a bowl and mash together. Add a splash of Katz Sparkling Wine vinegar, a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a generous dusting of pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika). Taste, and add a little salt if necessary. Stir some more, and if it seems too thick or dry, add a splash of the same white wine you used to cook the vegetables and perhaps a bit more extra virgin. You want it to be spreadable but not dry. Serve with good bread, toasted or grilled is best, I think.