Sunday, March 2, 2014

Chowbaccalao!


Synchronicity.

This can mean different things to different people. The Police's best album. The Police's worst album. Perhaps there's a more mystical meaning, like how Stewart Copeland seems to be able to shift time and space to be able to hit seven different drums at the same time using only four limbs (that we can see).

Or like when you're struggling to remember the name of the guitarist for The Police and all of the sudden your Facebook feed is telling you that Andy Summers has a new photography exhibit and would you like to "like" it.

The other guy in The Police is some bloke named Gordon Sumner.

I digress.



Me and 99% Bittersweet had a moment of synchronicity recently whereupon the universe seemed to be sending us a clear message: salt cod.

For me, the idea rattled around in the back of my head during my lengthy trek from Grass Valley to Newman, California.

Newman is a post-Gold Rush town in the middle of farm country, founded by Simon Newman in 1888. In the center of town is a 1940s cinema (The West Side Theatre) in the art deco style, that has been restored.

Old Newman sprawls outward from downtown, loosely centered on the city's Pioneer Square park. Near the theater is an Ace Hardware, the United States Postal Service post office, antique stores, shops, restaurants and bars.

What had been rattling around in my subconscious was one store in particular, a bodega called JJ Liquors. Here you could not only pick up your scratchers, a bottle of whiskey and perhaps a bag of chicharrones but you could browse a surprising array of Portuguese delicacies: linguica, imported cheeses, Portuguese wines and spirits, cookies, candies and of course bacalao.

In the back of my head I knew I wanted to try cooking bacalao, salt-cured Atlantic cod, and I knew exactly how I wanted to cook it. What I didn't know was that at the same time, separated by many miles, 99% Bittersweet was thinking the same thing. The. Same. Exact. Thing.

"So we'll hit JJ's in the morning," she started as we disembarked from their mini-van at their home in New Newman (what I call the exurb that sprang up along side Simon's little farming town), "and I was thinking maybe we should get some bacalao!"

"Oh yeah, I was thinking that too. Maybe we could do like a stew like the one..."

"...The one on Bourdain's show," she cut me off.

"Exactly! How did you know?"

"It was on Hulu the other day," she continued. (We searched, there was no sign of it on Hulu. Here's a link to the episode on Vimeo, however.)

Synchronicity.


You will need two identical 9" cast iron skillets (preferably with lids), a saucier or sauce pan and a straight sided 12" sautée pan or large cast iron skillet (a ceramic coated cast iron casserole would also work), wooden spoons and a brass "spider."

Chowbaccalao!, Inspired by A Cook's Tour:
  • Rinse salt cod in several changes of ice cold water over 1-2 days. (After one day the cod was pretty salty still. Trim the fins and feed those to the cats, but leave the bones in.)
  • Fry 6-8 halved cloves garlic in olive oil then remove garlic.
  • Poach cod on medium heat in olive oil, skin side down for 10 minutes then up for another 7 minutes.
  • Pour off excess oil (we used about a cup total across two cast-iron skillets so we ended up not having to pour off any extra oil).
  • Emulsify gelatin and oil.
  • Add tomato and olive sauce with chili sauce.
  • Warm through.
  • Serve.











Here's a handy video:


Tomato Sauce with Olives:
  • 1 28 ounce can of stewed whole tomatoes, which you mash with your fingers because it just feels good.
  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups of olives with the pits (as chef José Andrés likes to say - "the bones of the olive").
  • 1 small yellow onion, sliced.
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped.
  • 1 - 1 1/2 cups of good white wine (we had bought a Portuguese white wine from JJ's but alas it was nicht sehr guht).
  • Herbs to taste (we used a sprig of rosemary from a bush growing in the yard).
  • Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Bonus: I made this in advance and reheated it when making the cod emulsion sauce, so I added in the fried garlic which I had set aside.
  • Added Bonus: we took the rinds off the cheese (sans wax) and added them into the sauce - I trick I learned from no other than g0b0t himself (Wo ist g0b0t? Ich warte auf g0b0t. Why German? Because we're cooking a Basque stew with Canadian salt cod bought in a Portuguese package store. America.)
  • Extra Added Bonus: we were hitting this cherry liqueur from Portugal called Ginja, so we threw a shot in at the end.

This is your basic tomato sauce preparation.

Start by sautéing the onions and garlic in olive oil over medium heat, adding some salt to help the onions to start to "sweat."

Once the onions begin to soften, add everything else.

Bring everything to a boil, cover and reduce heat. Simmer for about 20 minutes, then uncover. Bring back to a healthy bubble and reduce slightly so that the sauce "tightens up," or about another 10 minutes of cooking. Stir occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning at the bottom of your sauce pan.

Cover and set aside while you get your batata frita going.


Speaking of stealing shit being inspired by others, this is the fry method used by Mad'M'Zelles Poutine:

Batata Frita (Fried Potatoes):
  • 2-3 medium Russet potatoes cut into 1" wedges.
  • 2 quarts of 3% salt, 3% sugar brine (my version adds the brine from our olives plus the canned tomato "rinse" having used the same bowl to crush my tomatoes moments earlier).
  • 4-6 cups of peanut oil or lard, melted.
  • Aged Portuguese cheese.
  • Salt to taste.
Brine your potatoes for up to 6 hours but for at least an hour before blanching.

Drain potatoes and all them to drip-dry for several minutes while you bring your cooking oil or fat to about 320ºF (let's say medium heat) in a straight-sided large frying pan or cast iron skillet.

Blanch potatoes for about 6-8 minutes until they begin to cook through but do not brown in the oil, working in batches so as to not crowd the pan.

Remove potatoes and set aside in a metal work bowl.

Set your frying pan and oil aside while you work on the cod. When the cod is assembled, set those pans aside and return your frying pan to the stove, this time heating to about 375ºF (let's call it high heat).


Fry potatoes in batches for about 10 minutes over high heat until they are GB&D (golden, brown and delicious). On the last batch, when ready, return all of the potatoes to the frying pan to reheat them all evenly for about a minute.

Scoop them out with the spider onto a sheet pan lined with paper towels while you clean and dry your metal work bowl.

While still hot, toss potatoes in work bowl while sprinkling with kosher salt.

Arrange potatoes on your serving dish and grate cheese over potato (if you use a microplane grater you get a lovely "snow" effect).

Reheat your cod stew and serve!


--

JJ Liquor
1361 Main Street
Newman, CA