Salt cod makes several appearances in Jeff Koehler's new cookbook, Spain. Some recipes, like his brandade on toast or salt cod tortilla, blend the fish into a larger dish, using it for seasoning rather than a centerpiece. Others offer a large piece of salt cod on a plate, enhanced with just a bit of olive oil—a meal exclusively for bacalao lovers. I wanted to strike a balance between the two, and chose to prepare a simple salad of salt cod, orange, and black olives. The fish is soaked for two days to release much of the salt before it's lightly seared and flaked into thin, bite-sized pieces. Segments of oranges, wedges of egg, slices of olives, and a drizzle of bold olive oil each complement the fish in their own way for a unique, unforgettable dish.
Why I picked this recipe: I've only ever had salt cod whipped into a brandade or fried into fritters, so I wanted to try a dish that brings the fish more to the forefront.
What worked: Out of all the recipes tested this week, this salad was by far the easiest and the most distinctive. Take a bite with a sliver of each ingredient on the fork for a balance between the richness of the egg and olives, sweet brightness of the orange, and salty brininess in the fish.
What didn't: My salt cod was very thick, so it took a few extra minutes to turn flaky.
Suggested tweaks: The picture seems to show fennel in the salad and not a thinly sliced scallion. I made my salad as written in the recipe, but I'm sure fennel would taste lovely in here as well. Koehler suggests using the most strongly flavored olive oil you can find, like a Spanish blend that uses Picual olives. I had on hand an olio nuovo pressed from a peppery blend of Tuscan olives that worked well.
Reprinted with permission from Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Adalucía by Jeff Koehler. Copyright 2013. Published by Chronicle Books. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- 6 ounces (170 g) salt cod, preferably from a single thick center-cut loin piece
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
- 2 ripe large valencia oranges
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- 12 to 20 black olives, pitted and sliced
- 2 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered lengthwise (optional)
Begin desalting the salt cod 2 to 3 days before (depending on the cut): Dry salt cod—bacalao—needs to be desalted before using. Soaking in water removes the salt, rehydrates the cod, and softens the flesh. The process takes at least 36 hours to 2 days, changing the water at least four to six times; fatter loin pieces can take as long as 4 days; the thickest loin pieces can take even longer.
Rinse the cod under cool running water. Place skin-side up (to keep the salt from concentrating here) in a bowl and cover with fresh water. Change the water immediately, rinse out the bowl, and refill with cool water. Arrange the pieces in the bowl skin-side up. Place the bowl in the refrigerator and let the cod soak for 12 hours. Drain, rinse out the bowl, change the water, and soak for another 12 hours. Change the water every 6 to 8 hours or so for the next 24 hours. Place the pieces skin-side down during the final 12 hours. Drain the cod, rinse, and gently squeeze out some of the excess water. Place in a strainer—with the skin side up again—and let drain for at least 30 minutes. (For certain recipes where you don’t want any salty moisture running into the sauce, I recommend draining for significantly longer.)
To check if it is ready, take a pinch of the fish and taste. It should be slightly salty but not disagreeably so. (If it is too salty, change the water and continue to soak.) Drain, rinse, gently squeeze out excess moisture, and pat dry with paper towels. Carefully debone.
Preheat a skillet over high heat and lightly oil it. Lay on the cod and cook only until it can be flaked apart, 4 to 6 minutes depending on the thickness. Transfer to a plate. Remove the skin and gently flake apart, carefully checking for any bones.
Section the orange segments. To do this, peel the oranges and then trim any white pith with a sharp knife. Carefully cut along the membranes and remove the individual segments. Set the segments in a bowl along with any juices.
Add the cod to the bowl along with the scallion and olives. Drizzle over the olive oil and gently toss. Divide the salad among plates and garnish each with hard-boiled egg, if desired.