Forgetting that I had asked my amazing wife for books (I am somewhat of a broken record when it comes to wish lists), I once again received volumes of letter with an assortment of texts of culinary lore for Christmas. Also in the stack was a wonderful non-culinary novel, a Pulitzer Prize winner of 1981, and a story that had a formidable impact on my desire to not only keep reading but also to learn how to write.
I read this book when I was serving in the Marines, and if I had to pin it on a date, I would have to say it was 1991. Back in those days, it probably would have taken me a year to read a book. Now, however, it was laid to rest in a day, and it was even more refreshing and surprising than I remembered it almost two decades prior.
The book is “A Confederacy of Dunces” by JK Toole, a scintillatingly disturbing comedy-tragedy set in New Orleans in the early 60s. Communists, revolutionaries, socialites, bleeding-heart do-gooders (who in their attempts to help only solidify the common notion that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions) and greasy boxes of tea cakes are only minimized by the large mass of a flatulent beast by the name of Ignatius Reilly, a slothful, educated do-nothing who bellows his wisdom to assure any surrounding inferior beings that he knows more than them.
Since this is not a book review, I will leave it to you to read the book and post your thoughts.
Next on the docket was “Cod; a Biography of the Fish that Changed the World” by Kurlansky. Short and sweet, it is a detailed and well-oriented piece on cod, and if one could be more specific, of the value of salt-cod throughout modern history. It is an important cautionary tale for anyone who eats seafood as Kurlansky does a good job of disseminating government reports on and denials of overfishing for decades only to realize now that it may be too late; the damage is done.
My family had just supped with friends on Christmas Eve for a Feast of Seven Fishes, and it was decided that my contribution would be a somewhat traditional offering from salt-cod, aka bacalao or bacalhau.
Executing a variation on #1145 of A. Escoffier, I made croquettes from salt-cod and mashed potatoes, using a crust of graham, almond and maize. The crisp was a perfect contrast to the soft volcanic interior. And with the sweet and tangy tomato sauce to offset the savory filling, it was a smash hit.
These croquettes are based on brandade, A. Escoffier #1805; a dip of sorts that combines the cod and mashed potatoes in a creamy mixture. As cod became scarcer and more expensive, potatoes were an effective and tasty way to stretch the chef’s dollar, or franc, whatever the case may be.
And when I think about the dunces who may very well be in confederacy against me, I can’t help but be thankful that while I am educated, I have accepted that I know little and must keep studying in order to enlighten myself before I think for even a second that I can do so with anyone else.
For now, I will consider myself the dunce, but a dunce who can make a mean croquette.
Salt Cod Croquettes with Tomato Sauce
8 oz. salt cod
8 oz. peeled Russet potato, diced
garlic to taste
cream as needed
2 whole eggs
potato buds only if needed
3 oz. almonds
3 oz. corn flour
3 oz. graham crackers
S&P to taste
Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
- Soak the salt cod in cold water for a minimum of 12 hours, changing the water every couple of hours or so. Many believe that 24 hours are needed, but that’s up to you
- When the cod is drained and ready to go, sauté it lightly in butter with the garlic until white and cooked through. Mash with the back of a spoon until it is nice and smooth. Set aside until you are ready with the potatoes
- Simmer the potatoes in salted water until tender and ready to mash
- Combine the potatoes, cream and eggs, seasoning to taste, to make an eggy mashed potato
- Add the cod and potato mixtures and mix until homogenous
- Roll into balls and set in the refrigerator until they set up
- Grind the almonds, flour and graham, salt & pepper in a food processor or grinder of choice until fine
- Set up a breading station of flour, Egg wash, breading mixture and bread the croquettes, aka Cod Balls
- At this point they can be fried or frozen if not used in the next day. They freeze beautifully and will fry from frozen, making any leftovers not a problem. This is even more so the case when you vacuum pack.
1 can diced tomatoes
½ ea. medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ea. Medium shallot, diced
Herbs to taste
S&P to taste
- Place the first four ingredients in a saucepan and simmer until well combined. This can take quite a while, so just be patient
- Adjust with herbs, salt, pepper and sugar if desired and either strain through a food mill or puree to serve.