Brandade de morue is a dish with a bit of a reputation of being a bit of a slog to make. I don’t know anyone who makes their own. Even back in 1960, when ‘French Provincial Cooking’ was first published, Elizabeth David commented that the majority of French housewives in Provence bought it ready-prepared. Of course, in Nimes they would have been purchasing it in a small shop that had made it their specialty over the preceding century (at least). Nowadays the supermarket Monoprix and the frozen food store Picard seem the major suppliers to the nation.
And yet that reputation seems, as reputations often are, rather undeserved. Yes, it is made with salt cod that has to be soaked overnight in cold water, but that task seems hardy onerous. I made this tried and tested recipe for supper last week and it was quite speedy. I used a 400g package of skinned and deboned pieces of salt cod that speeded the cooking and flaking process up considerably.
To the uninitiated it is a mixture of cooked fish, with potatoes, some garlic and olive oil. I’m trying to avoid using the words ‘fish pie’ but that is how I initially persuaded my children to eat it. I really enjoy the addition of some crème fraîche and a little lemon zest to lighten the taste and texture of a dish that can otherwise be a bit heavy with the taste of the olive oil. It is a perfect dish to make ahead and reheat. It needs just 20 mins in the oven and a dressed green salad to accompany it. Why not give it a go – it will taste better than anything those French housewives were spending their francs on back in the 60s!
- 400g skinless, boneless salt cod pieces
- 250ml milk
- several sprigs thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 peppercorns
- 1/8 tsp ground allspice
- 1 clove
- 400g floury potatoes, cut into large cubes
- 5 garlic cloves
- salt and pepper
- 60ml olive oil
- pinch cayenne
- freshly grated nutmeg
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 4 tbsp crème fraiche
- large knob of cold butter
- 4 tbsp gluten free breadcrumbs
- Place the pieces of salt cod in a dish, cover with water and a lid, or cling film, and place in the fridge overnight. In the morning drain off the water, replace with fresh water and leave until ready to prepare the dish (so a total of 12-24 hours soaking time).
- Place the cod in a medium pan with the milk, thyme, bay, peppercorns, allspice and clove. Bring to a gentle simmer for 15 mins - the surface should be barely moving (any faster a simmer and your fish might toughen). Drain the fish and discard the milk. Flake the cod into smallish pieces.
- Meanwhile cook the potatoes with the whole garlic cloves in boiling salted water until the potatoes are soft. Drain the potatoes and garlic and reserve a small cup of the cooking liquid.
- Heat the cooked garlic cloves and the olive oil in a small pan, crushing the garlic with a fork, then heat the oil gently for a few minutes. You are not aiming to cook the garlic, just to infuse the oil with the garlic. Set aside.
- Mash the potatoes with a masher or ricer into a large bowl, then add the flaked, cooked salt cod, the garlic and its oil and beat all together with a wooden spoon or spatula.
- Add the cayenne, grated nutmeg to taste, lemon zest and the crème fraîche. Beat well together. Add a few tablespoons of the potato cooking liquid to lighten the mixture and beat well to combine. The mixture should have the texture of soft mashed potatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed.
- Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan). Grease a gratin dish or similar ( I used two Le Creuset mini frying pans) and add the mixture, smoothing the surface. Scatter the breadcrumbs over the top and dot with small pieces of butter.
- Bake for 20 mins until golden and serve hot with a dressed green salad.