Maybe not everything is better with salt cod, but a lot of things. Salt cod is. . . salted cod. I've eaten utilitarian dried fish that tastes like the way goldfish flakes smell and salt cod has a little of that happening, but only in a good way. It infuses everything with a dry fishy flavor. As a lifetime resident of non-coastal Vermont, a full 3 hour drive from Boston, I approve of anything that takes a small quantity of fish and offers up a large fish flavor. I'm tempted to also have a post on how everything's better with dried shrimp. Because that's true too.
The first salt cod-ian notion of the week was a rice pilaf flavored more-or-less only with salt cod. The basic recipe came from a paella dish in 1,000 Spanish Recipes by Penelope Las Casas. Here's the central idea:
In a large skillet with a little oil, cook 1/2 pound of rinsed salt cod briefly, just to warm it up. Shred it / cut into small strips (mine was pretty well shredded to begin with). Soak that salt cod in warm water, changing water a few times, for 30 minutes (normally you'd soak salt cod for a good 6 hours or more, but we want salt remaining in this one).
Get 1 cup of clam juice and 4 cups of water warm in a saucepan, keep it warm.
In the large skillet where you cooked the cod, cook up some veggies for your pilaf in a generous splash of olive oil. I used onions, garlic, green peppers, peas (frozen), cauliflower, artichokes here. Then afterwards once the pilaf was done I mixed in navy beans I'd cooked in vegetable stock, and topped it with minced red onion, red cabbage, and chopped hard boiled egg.
Once the veggies are soft, stir in 2 1/2 cups of Arborio rice (or other short grained white rice - not brown rice, I've made that mistake before). Cook, stirring, until the rice is coated in the pan juices. Drain the salt cod and add it.
Now, pour in the warm liquid in the saucepan, and simmer until the rice is almost surfaced and the bubbles are "fish eyes" sized (don't ask me what species of fish, this is just how I learned it). Turn off heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes until rice has fully absorbed the liquid.
Another, possibly more familiar, use for salt cod is salt cod fritters. Yum. Plenty of Food Network stars have their versions: Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence, Emeril Lagasse, I recommend this one from a Macanese food festival. The salt cod that I had (from the Shaws in Berlin) came shredded, so I did the soaking part, but not the boiling part since it seemed like soaking was sufficient.
Another culinary winner: Chinese-anything fusion. "Fusion" has fallen into ill repute among classy culinary establishments, but we have no pretensions here. Besides, as Macanese food, South African food (next week), and Eritrean food (up next, with Ethiopian food) all demonstrate "fusion" is simply a word for what has gone on ever since long distance travel became possible lo these many centuries ago. In this instance, I'm thinking particularly of my new invention, the Linguica Sausage Dumpling. It's like a pierogi met a steamed bun and they had a beer together.
I began with last week's pan fried leek bun recipe. I kept the dough part and the cooking method, but changed the filling. My quantities are not going to match a home kitchen quantity - so I'll give it as a ratio here:
1 part peeled, roughly mashed russet potatoes (don't add liquid when mashing)
1/2 diced sweet Portuguese sausage, cooked until dry
1/2 diced spicy Portuguese sausage, cooked until dry
1/8 (or to taste) reconstituted, minced dried Shiitake mushrooms
1/4 chopped dandelion greens, sauteed or a generous portion of minced parsely or nothing
Alternatively: Take your favorite pierogi filling (mine involves jalapenos) and use that.
Proceed per the steamed bun recipe, being generous with your filling. You can also stop at the point where the dumplings are formed but not yet cooked and freeze them.
There's a lot to have found delicious in Macanese food. I'll add these two other recipes to the mix:
Galinha a Africana - Chicken, Peanut, Coconut Stew over Potatoes: I started with the recipe found at this blog - it's a post worth reading because there are beautiful pictures of Macau and the recipe begins with an ingredient list on a restaurant placemat. It's based on a rumor of a Gourmet Magazine recipe so I considered that close enough to kitchen tested. My version involved something close to a sofrito base, using green peppers instead of red. Also, I used coconut milk instead of shredded coconut because Steve Almond once described unsweetened shredded coconut as "like eating toenail clippings" and I haven't been able to shake that image ever since. My apologies if I've now ruined coconut for you, too.
Po Kok Gai (Chicken & Chorizo curry): Here's an instance where I'm going to tell you that I read a recipe, then did almost nothing that the recipe told me to (including but not limited to adding mussels). That being said, I'm sure this version tastes great; it's from the legitimate Macanese restaurant Fat Rice and it's reprinted on Tasting Table.