I have been mulling over how to write this post for 3 days now, I have started it at least 5 times only to delete everything, put the computer to sleep and mull some more. You see, I just can’t seem to find the appropriate and fitting words to pay tribute to a chef , a restaurant, a book and a recipe.
My usual list of superlatives and excessive adjectives for praise just don’t seem right for the above 4, even though many of them are bouncing around in my mouth like a class of unsupervised over excited, hyperactive 5 year olds when I think of any one of this quartet - brilliant, inspiring, cult, classic, tour di force, awesome (did I ever say that, ok, slap my face and wash my mouth out with salt water). I would like to write something that at least vaguely honours the style of all 4, unpretentious, straightforward, without an ounce of hyperbole. So, how about, just great, oh, and considering this is all about food, lets put the emphasis on the latter part of the word, as in grEAT.
To write something I am vaguely happy with, maybe I need to take myself back to when I first encountered Fergus Henderson’s cooking about 8 years ago. My friend Joanna took me to St John. It had been open about a year, we ate in the bar, anchovy toast, welsh rarebit, hard boiled eggs with celery salt, a salad with crispy pigs tails, roast bone marrow with parsley salad. I knew nothing about the fast growing fervour for this white, cavernous, ex- smokehouse of a restaurant, even less about the man at the stove with a penchant for cooking way beyond the fillet. I just knew the place was wonderful, the food simple, honest, original and utterly delicious, the staff really nice and the experience, well great.
Lots of visits ensued, usually with Joanna, occasionally in the restaurant but mostly in the bar, each experience like the first, great. I bought the book, I took it home, its great. The recipes, to make that simple, honest, original and utterly delicious food are, yes, GREAT.
That’s it, that’s what I wanted to say, the aforementioned 4 I have been mulling over are, well great. My over excited, hyperactive 5 year old words are bouncing again, stop it Rachel, you have said enough.
Now, the book. Much has been written, feverish admiration, squeals, commotion about FH’s masterful way with lesser used cuts and bits of beasts, noses, tails, spleens, hearts and feet. FH’s reclaiming the inspired use everything, of nose to tail – something French an Italian mothers have never forgotten, that the trotters, necks, kidneys, intestines and to put it bluntly, blood and guts, in the hands of a thoughtful and gentle cook are some of the most delicious, flavoursome morsels you can eat (if meat is your thing.)
The book is nose to tail of the beast heavy, 73 of the 139 recipes. But just say I developed a life threatening allergy to all things beast, (which would be a terrible thing) I would still prize and return joyfully to this book for the fish, vegetable, salad and sweet recipes which are every bit as wonderful as the rest.
Finally to the recipe.
No, I have not developed a life threatening allergy to all things beast, I just fancied some salt cod when I thumbed through Nose to Tail last Wednesday. Actually it wasn’t entirely by chance I chose something starring salt cod, it had been on my mind ever since the day before, when I read that one of FH’s favorite cooking play-lists includes the soundtrack of Zorba the greek and that he fell in love with his wife while dancing to it and discussing salt cod.
Yes, lets discuss salt cod, not in great detail I hasten to add, I will leave that to wikipedia. I know this is another ingredient which provokes delight or revulsion rather than indifference, the particular smelling salted and preserved pieces of cod which when carefully soaked can produce the most delicious platefuls – I should just add that salt cod if different to stock fish which is dried cod.
I fall onto the delight side of the fence and I consider myself lucky – you may say unlucky I suppose, if you fall onto the revulsion side – because Italians are lovers and masters of cooking salt cod, known as Baccalà. You can buy it everywhere here in Rome, where the cooking of salted and preserved cod (the worlds oldest method of food preserving) is shrouded in history, religion and faith, politics and commerce and for many, the weekly ritual of eating it.
You can buy salt cod ready soaked, but I prefer to soak it myself because its cheaper and if its over salted or over soaked and fuzzy, I am to blame, not left cursing somebody else. There is some soaking time involved, any thing from 14 – 48 hours and about 8 water changes depending on the size of the piece – are you gasping, ok, buy the ready soaked.
So this fine recipe is as I promised before, simple. honest, and utterly delicious.
Flakes of salt cod, its robust yet delicate and pleasingly chewy texture quite unlike fresh cod tossed with roasted small tomatoes, garlic, and pebble like cubes of boiled potatoes. The 4 are dressed simply with the sticky, oily, tomato and garlic juices which collected in the roasting tin and a big handful of chopped parsley.
We ate in warm for lunch with some Focaccia to mop up the juices.
Vincenzo declared it delicious and we raised our glasses to the fine Quartet of chef, restaurant, book and recipe.
Fergus Henderson’s Salt cod, Potato and Tomato.
Adapted from Fergus Hendersons Nose to tail eating.
- 8oog vine tomatoes
- 12 cloves of garlic, peeled.
- sea salt and pepper
- about 200ml extra virgin olive oil
- 1kg flavoursome potatoes
- 1kg salt cod, soaked as required,carefully patted dry, skinned, small bones picked out and cut into 3cm chunks
- a big handful of parsley roughly chopped
Chop your tomatoes in half and place them with the peeled garlic in a oven dish, sprinkle with salt and dribble over the oil.
Roast in a medium oven, about an hour, until the tomatoes are soft and giving and just a little caramelized at the edges,
Peel the potatoes and boil under tender. Drain and allow to cool enough to handle and then chop into rough chunks.
Gentle poach the cod pieces in a shallow pan of simmering water for 5 minutes and then remove with a slotted spoon and drain on some kitchen towel.
In a large bowl mix the tomatoes, garlic, potato chunks, poached cod. Tip over the sticky, tomatoey, juices from the roasting tin and another glug of oil if you think it needs it. Add the roughly chopped parsley, season carefully with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Mix the ingredients together gently but firmly so the flavours mingle, the cod will crumble, this is good.
Serve just so with good bread.