Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Salt Cod and Tomato Stew

From the kitchen of One Perfect Bite...The ghosts of Christmas past sometimes surface unexpectedly. Mine snuck up on me this evening as I was making salt cod stew. Its aroma triggered a reverie that carried me back to the Christmas of my eighth year and "Ma'am's" kitchen where salt cod was being prepared for the Feast of Seven Fishes. This was also the year that St. Joseph, to the great consternation of Salvatore, Ma'am's husband, missed Christmas. Salvatore, a successful and respected contractor, was by training a stone mason. He was also an unrecognized, but talented, sculptor who fashioned one of the most beautiful Nativity scenes I've ever seen. There was, however, a problem this particular Christmas and it concerned the disposition of the young and hapless widow Moriarty. Many of you, especially those raised in the comforts and conformity of suburban homes, will be confounded by the remainder of my tale, but trust me, all of this really did happen "once upon a time in America." The widow Moriarty, left with five children and no visible means of support, wanted to sell her house and move back to the home of her parents. The house was in terrible condition and sat on the market for months. She finally told her sad tale to Ma'am who, always sympathetic, sent her boys to paint and otherwise refresh the house. Ma'am also decided to share Salvatore's St.Joseph with Mrs. Moriarty. Together they dug a hole in the Moriarty's back yard and buried the two foot statue, upside down. Ma'am firmly believed that the saint's intercession would help sell the house. I never understood the upside down part of the equation, but it apparently was a deal breaker and necessary if you wanted Joseph's help. In a normal year this would have caused no problems, but the furies, determined to wreak havoc, paid a visit and brought with them an early and hard freeze. The kind that would keep Joseph in the ground until the spring thaw. Now, this business with the statue transpired without Salvatore's knowledge or consent, so his bad temper was, in retrospect, explainable. He was neither religious nor superstitious and couldn't understand how all of this happened to him and his Joseph at Christmas, a time when folks came from miles around to admire his Nativity. Bent out of shape doesn't begin to explain his unhappiness. Ma'am did a lot of special baking that year and things finally settled down after the holiday. Mrs. Moriarty sold her house and, come spring, St. Joseph was disinterred and not buried again until Salvatore and Ma'am wanted to sell their home. Here is the recipe that triggered today's reverie. It's delicious and I hope you'll give it a try.

Salt Cod and Tomato Stew...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Andy D'Amico


1 pound dried salt cod
1/2 cup to 1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup 1/4-inch-diced onions
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/2 jalapeño, minced and seeded
2 ounces grappa or dry white wine
2 cups tomatoes, chopped, with their juice
Bouquet garni: parsley stems, thyme, marjoram, fennel fronds, and a bay leaf, tied in cheesecloth or coffee filter
1 cup 1/2-inch-diced bell pepper
1/2 cup pitted Niçoise olives (stuffed Spanish olives may be substituted)
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
Fruity extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Sea-salt crystals and freshly ground black pepper


1) Place dried cod in a bowl, cover with cold water, and soak for at least 48 hours, changing water every 12 hours. Remove cod from water, pat dry with paper towels, and cut into 1-inch pieces.
2) Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a nonstick sauté pan, add cod in small batches, and sauté until lightly browned; set aside and repeat with remaining cod. (If the cod is too wet, it will not brown.)
3) Warm 4 tablespoons oil in a 2-quart casserole; add onions, garlic, and jalapeño; and cook gently without allowing them to color. Pour in grappa, and reduce until liquid has evaporated. Add tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add browned salt cod and bouquet garni, cover casserole, and simmer gently for 45 minutes. Fold in peppers, olives, and capers, and return to a simmer for an additional 15 minutes. Stew should be juicy; if it becomes dry, add a little water or stock. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with plenty of black pepper and a few coarse sea-salt crystals. Serve with grilled or crusty fresh bread. Yield: 6 servings.

You might also enjoy these recipes:
Portuguese Kale and Salt Cod Chowder - Karen Cooks
Baccala alla Napoletana - Memorie di Angelina
Brandade de Morue - 2 Frugal Foodies
Fried Salt Cod with Garlic Sauce - Lisa is Cooking
Salt Cod, Fava Bean and English Pea Salad - Wright Food
Salt Cod with Red Pepper Sauce - Trissalicious


Lucie said...

What an entertaining story, Mary! I love how a small or taste can trigger such vivid memories.

Jeannie said...

You always have a story behind every dish you cook, Mary:) this looks like another wonderful recipe...cheers!

Red Nomad OZ said...

What a bizarre and amazing story! Sounds just like something that could happen down here in Australia!! But salt cod? Probably not going to happen down in OZ in summer with a preponderence of fresh fish on offer!!

Happy travels!!

Priya Suresh said...

Such a delectable stew..

Sushma Mallya said...

very beautiful..looks delicious..

Ann said...

What a great story! And I really nice recipe. I am always fascinated by the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Some of my aunts used to prepare that, but my cousins and I haven't stayed with it. Maybe, I could revive it?

Diane said...

Great story. This looks very yummy. I will have to look out for salt cod, I am not sure I have ever seen it. Diane

kitchen flavours said...

That's a lovely story. I read about Ma'am, she seems to be a kind, motherly and caring person. Your salt cod and tomato stew looks really delicious. Wishing you and family a Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Jamie said...

Your stories are always so beautifully told, like music. And food, whether the scent or the flavor, have a powerful way of stirring up long-buried memories. And this is a wonderful stew for a cold winter night!

Regina said...

Merry Christmas Mary!

Faith said...

What a great story, Mary! Food that are attached to memories like this are so much more meaningful. The salt cod stew looks wonderful!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I can just taste this - the delicious cod and the briny olives and capers! And, a flavorful story too!

La Cuisine d'Helene said...

The last time I had Salt Cod was in Newfoundland. It was such a great dish. Love your stories.

Banana Wonder said...

Loving the salt cod! What a zesty-licious meal for the holidays.

Diana's Cocina said...

Great story ~ And a lovely stew for a cold winter night ~ Wishing you and your family a very Merry Christmas.

momgateway said...

A thing of beauty! Salted cod goes so well with tomatoes and potatoes. Reminds me so much of one of our favorite fish dishes!

StephenC said...

I used salt cod in a similar application several years ago, but was not happy with the result - somewhat dry and chewy fish. I'm sure yours was just what one would hope for at the 7 fishes feast.

Rita said...

Lovely post again. This recipe would make my husband happy; he is crazy for baccalau and in any way.
HAppy Holidays Mary.

Pondside said...

This made me smile, because I remember hearing of that tradition when I was a girl.
Salt cod - well, there a Christmas Ever recipe for a Maritimer!

Ren- Lady Of The Arts said...

Great story and recipe- as alway- hope you are having a good week!

Carolina Mountains said...

Great post. Wishing you a very Happy Holiday!

Alfazema said...

It's the time of the year to eat bacalhau (salted cod).
Happy Christmas and thank you for all these recipes you gave us through the year.

The Blonde Duck said...

Have a merry Christmas!

black eyed susans kitchen said...

Mary, What a wonderful story! My neighbor across the street also tried the upside down St. Joseph, and sold her house. This is such an interesting recipe too. Have a wonderful Christmas.
♥, Susan

Valérie said...

Very entertaining story, to go with a delicious-looking stew! Happy holidays to you, Mary!

Katerina said...

I loved the story. A delicious fish stew.

tigerfish said...

I almost love any tomato-based stew!

Emily Z said...

What an interesting dish, and interesting combination. Great story, it's always fun to have a story behind the cooking!

JG said...

Mary, I chuckled when I read your story. It's not just "once upon a time in America," but these days small plastic Joseph statues with the specific directions to be followed are sold to hopeful home sellers. :)

Your stew looks yummy and Cod is plentiful in MA!

Have a wonderful holiday!

Juliana said...

Oh Mary, I love salted cod...we used to have very often back in how you prepared it...I sure will have to make a visit at a local store to get some salted cod. Great photos Mary!

Unknown said...

Hmmm? The upside down thing is interesting. What's the symbolism?

Through the ages and through stories told...baking/cooking/food is a common thread bringing stability, peace and comfort to so many. ...So she baked. :)

Ginny Hartzler said...

How did it get so late so soon? You posted this almost 24 hours ago, gads!! Don't know how I missed it before now. What a strange and unusual story.

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Loved the story of the upside down St. Joseph. Your salt cod and tomato stew looks warm and comforting. I just posted a baccala recipe too.

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