Cooking With Salt Cod… Flamenco Stew

A few weeks ago I saw a show with Andrew Zimmerman. He was in Iceland and profiling a chef who was re known with he could do with salt cod, a valuable commodity in Scandinavia. I then got to thinking of a delicious Brandade de Morue I had and was determined to make it. Until I saw all the cups of olive oil involved in making this heavenly codfish paste like dish. So then I took I out my books on Spain. The Spanish should thank a fish merchant named Gurtubay from Bilbao whose order was mistaken for 30-40 bundles of salt cod/Bacalao to 30,040. Stuck with this excess inventory he thought he was screwed. But a Carlist War broke out, food ran low, and the population turned to the merchant for his dried salt cod.Needless to say he racked up! I read this fact in my Culinaria Spain. The Spanish had used salt cod before going back to the 16th century. It was well preserved , could travel, and adapted for dishes during Lent. I remember my Nigerian father incorporating stock fish, or salt cod in his stews and soups. As a child I didn’t get it, but know see that flavor that the adults relished.

The trick to using salt cod is to soak it for at least 24- 48 hours and change the water frequently. Its not so widely used in the US, but one can find it in Hispanic or Italian stores. I found mine in the local Treasure Island. For a poor mans fish, it can be awfully expensive. More so than fresh fish. It normally comes in a wooden crate.Don’t let the initial smell deter you.

I decided to make a dish I got from Spain and The World Table by the Culinary Institute of America. I won this book a while back from Andrea, and this is the first recipe I made. Flamenco stew is based on the classic Lenten Soups and stews of Spain. I figured I had most of the ingredients. There is a a lot of prep involved but what I got was one of the best fish based stews/ soups I have ever tasted! The house had a fragrant, yet non fishy aroma. What I loved were the salt cod balls that reminded me of matzo balls. Perfect as this weather turns to fall for us here in Chicago.

Flamenco Stew adapted from a recipe from Kisko Garcia, Spain And The World Table, the Culinary Institute of America

serves 8
12 oz salt cod
2 cups dried chickpeas
For the Stew
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
2 1/2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
Pinch of Saffron
1 bay leaf
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 lbs potatoes
1 lb fresh spinach( stemmed ,washed, and chopped)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt Cod Balls
2 eggs
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley
2 teaspoons minced garlic
shredded salt cod from above
4 cups breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Desalt the salt cod. Soak in water, refrigerated for 24-48 hours. Change water at least 5 times. Drain well. Soak chickpeas overnight.
Place salt cod in medium sauce pan with 10 3/4 cups of water. Bring to a simmer. Remove the fish and save the water! Allow fish to cool and pick out any bones if any.Do not throw out the water!
Heat oil in a Dutch Oven. Cook until tender for 5 minutes and then add garlic, and paprika. Stir and cook for 1 minute until fragrant. Add the chickpeas and reserved water from the salt cod. Bring to boil. Add saffron and bay leaf. . Reduce to medium heat m cover, and simmer 1 hour. Add salt and cook for another 30 min- 1 hour until chickpeas are tender. Add potatoes and simmer for 30 min. Stir in spinach and pepper and remove from heat. Let stand while you make the salt cod balls.
Beat eggs in a bowl. Add parsley, garlic, shredded salt cod, and breadcrumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Shape into 1 1/2 inch balls and set aside.
Taste the stew and adjust seasonings to your tastes. Bring back to simmer on a low heat . Add the salt cod balls and poach gently for 5 minutes or until cooked.