Raymond is dying for a brandade de morue – a creamy salt cod pureed with olive oil and Provence herbs, as in Nîmes; with added potatoes and garlic, as in Marseille – or some accras de morue – his favourite spicy salt cod fritters.
In French, in matters of gastronomy, fresh or frozen cod, is cabillaud. Dried and salted, it becomes morue. It goes by the name of baccala in Italy, bacalao in Spain and bacalhau in Portugal. The Portuguese are so crazy about it, they have a saying that a woman is not ready to marry until she can prepare it 365 different ways! Thank goodness, your significant other didn’t insist on such insane prerequisites.
The problem is finding salt cod. Not exactly the most appealing of fish, stiff as a board, smellier than old socks and at the antipodes of convenience food. The long soaking it needs, before you can cook it, spoils any spur of the moment culinary creative impulses.
But don’t despair, for there is a shortcut to the long and tedious desalting process. Try Stephan’s secret recipe. The dear boy prepares his own quick version with the best looking and freshest of cod fillets he can find. His morue can proudly replace the original one, with its moist flesh, salted to perfection.
Once you’ve got your magnificent fresh fillets, unskinned and masterly sliced by your favourite fishmonger, rinse them in cold water, dry them thoroughly with a lovely clean dish-towel or some kitchen paper. Line them up on a dish, skin against it and cover them with a thin coat of coarse sea salt – Maldon or another one. Don’t use fine salt, or it your fish will be too salty. Say Abracadabra and let the salt work its magic.
Leave it for an hour, no longer, then delicately pick-up your fillets and rinse off all the salt. Dip them into a large pan with plenty of cold water for 10 minutes. Change the water and repeat the same process twice. Remove the fillets and pat them dry. They are now ready to be thrown into a pan full of boiling water to be cooked 5 minutes before being transformed into a 5-star brandade “one of mankind’s masterpieces” according to Adolphe Thiers, when he was President. Totally gaga over this delicacy, he was also a member of the « dîners de la brandade », a fan club founded by Provençal writer Alphonse Daudet.
Gaston Doumergue, another French President, whose taste buds had been enraptured by the divine marriage of a cold fish from the North with a fruity oil from the South, claimed that when eating this delicacy, you can hear crickets sing in the pine trees.