New England’s Clams & Salt Cod

Because I was under the weather, I had not had an opportunity to finish posting all the recipes for the 24, 24, 24 event I hosted a bit over 2 weeks ago. It was an ambitious menu, to say the least. Every dish was better than the next, I would really have a tough time picking one as my hands down favorite.

This one came representing the New England region and I must admit I was surprised by the use of salt cod. I couldn’t tell you why exactly, because as I think about it, it makes perfect sense. But it still caught me by surprise. The other thing I liked about it was the way the cod was used. As a native Panamanian I’m used to seeing cod in more ‘creole’ presentations. So this was different a change, and one that I enjoyed thoroughly.

I found the recipe on Chow.com. I prepared it¬†as instructed for the night of the event, but we had some of the cod and bean¬†base leftover and I revisited and tweaked the recipe a few days later. So here’s my final rendition of it.

This is a 2-day dish: on day 1 you’ll soak/rehydrate the cod and beans, on day 2 you can put it all together. Plan ahead. *Also, the recipe called for Manila clams which I didn’t find and substituted with Little Necks.

1/2 lb salt cod
2 cps dried white beans (such as Great Northern or cannellini beans)
2 cloves garlic, whole
1 tbsp kosher salt
4 cps whole milk
1 tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1/3 cp bacon or salt pork, chopped
2 tsp garlic, minced (about 2 cloves)
1/2 cp carrot, diced (about 1 large carrot)
1 1/2 cps leeks, chopped
1 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 lb Manila clams, scrubbed*
1 1/2 cps dry white wine
1/2 tsp lemon zest, grated
3 tbsp Italian parsley, finely chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

The day before, rinse the  salt cod under cool water, then place it in a large glass or plastic mixing bowl with enough cold water to cover and soak overnight in the refrigerator, changing the water 2 or 3 times. Put beans in another bowl, sort and rinse them, then cover them with cold water, and let soak for 24 hours in the refrigerator.

The next day, drain and rinse beans. Transfer them to a medium saucepan and add the whole garlic cloves and fresh cold water to cover. Bring to a simmer and cook gently, being mindful not to boil them. It will take about 40 minutes for them to be cooked through. Once the beans have softened, season them with sea salt & pepper. Remove the garlic cloves and strain the beans but reserve about 1-2 cps of the cooking liquid.

To prep the cod: drain the water it’s been soaking in and transfer to a saucepan. Add milk, peppercorns, and bay leaves and simmer over medium-low heat until fish is soft and flaky, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat, strain fish from the pan, and place in a bowl. Use a fork to flake cod into bite-size pieces. Discard milk and seasonings.

Rinse the saucepan and heat it over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook just long enough to render¬†some of its fat, you don’t want to brown it. Then add the garlic, carrots, leeks, and thyme and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Deglaze the pan with some of the wine, making sure to release all the drippings stuck at the bottom. Add the rest of the wine, cod, veggies and beans and allow it come to a slow boil. Add clams and wine, stir, and cover. Cook just until clams open, about 7 to 10 minutes. (Discard any clams that do not open.)

After all the clams have opened, add the  lemon zest and parsley and stir; add some of the bean-cooking liquid if the stew seems too thick. Ladle stew into small bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with crusty bread.

Foodie Joust: Bacalao Casserole

Jen, from The Leftover Queen, has a monthly contest featuring 3 predetermined ingredients. She calls it the Royal Foodie Joust. For February, the ingredients are fish, coconut milk and nutmeg. I simply had to enter. Those are 3 of my favorite ingredients.

Coconut milk is ever present in Panamanian & Caribbean cuisine, besides that, I LOVE the flavor it imparts to food.
Fish–well, I come from a country which name means ‘abundance of fish’. Need I say more?

Nutmeg. I love its smoky, sweet aroma and taste.

There’s a dish my mom prepares, a casserole of sorts. She recently reminded me of it and I’ve had it on my to do list for a few months. Turns out, I’ll be using my mom’s basic dish, then tweaking it to fit the joust.

Her dish calls for bacalao¬†(salted dry cod), potatoes and a b√©chamel sauce. Can you guess? Instead of b√©chamel, I’m using coconut milk, yeah baby, yeah! So, without further, you know, babbling, here’s the recipe.

Bacalao Casserole

1 lb bacalao (dry salt cod)
1 onion, sliced
1 red pepper, chopped
3 slices bacon, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp habanero sauce (optional)
1/4 cp white wine
1 cp coconut milk
1 cp water
1/2 tsp nutmeg
6 potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 slices bacon, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil, approx
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cp panko crumbs
1/2 cp bread crumbs

First you need to reconstitute the bacalao. Reconstitute is a fancy way of saying hydrate. Put the cod in a bowl and add boiling water, let it seep for about 15 minutes. Drain water and repeat the process once more or until the fish feels pliable. Drain and shred the fish. Set aside.

I weighed the contents of a 1lb container, it only weighed 12ozs

In a medium skillet, fry the bacon over medium-high heat just enough to render the fat and give it a bit of color. Add the onion and cook until translucent, then add the red pepper. Cook until softened. Add the bacalao, garlic and habanero sauce, stir until all the ingredients are incorporated.

Add the wine and cook it down until evaporated, this will only take a minute or two since the pan is quite hot. Once the wine has evaporated, add the coconut milk, water and nutmeg. Stir and bring it to a boil, then turn down the temperature to a simmer and cook covered for about 20 minutes. The flavor of the coconut milk intensifies overnight, so I did this part of the recipe the day before I served the dish.

Preheat oven to 375¬į.
Lightly brown the bacon in a skillet, remove and drain. You want your potatoes cubed pretty small. Add enough oil to the skillet to be able to brown the potatoes. Fry the potatoes in 2 batches. Once you have browned the first batch, transfer them to an ovenproof dish. Finish the rest of the potatoes, then mix in the bacon right into the baking dish.

In the same skillet, melt the butter and add the breadcrumbs, stir them frequently until lightly browned. Set aside.

Add the bacalao mixture over the potatoes, then top the potatoes with the breadcrumbs. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes before serving. This would go beautifully with tajadas.

By the way, come check out the other entries and vote for me!!! Rock the Vote!

That’s it. Enjoy!

Cookingly yours,
Anamaris