A fish dish with a tale all its own

The Culinary Institute of America

If you've ever visited an Italian market and wondered what the dried fish "salt cod" - also known as baccala - is used for, you wouldn't be alone. What good could come from a fish as dry as a wooden plank?

If you were in a Mediterranean market in Italy, France, Spain or Greece, you'd know exactly what good comes from that dried plank of fish. Salt cod has been on Mediterranean menus since the 1200s, when the long-term preservation of fish, canning and refrigeration were not yet invented.

It's dry and smells fishy - characteristics you wouldn't want in fresh fish - but with salt cod, it's just part of the miracle of this beloved fish.

The Culinary Institute of America's Salt Cod Cakes are a traditional New England favorite dating back to colonial times when cod fishing was a primary industry there. Fishermen dried and salted the cod soon after catching. It was simple to cure and, more importantly, it didn't spoil on long journeys back to port and kept well for longer periods when fresh fish wasn't readily available.

Salt cod, for all its relative obscurity, had a major role in the battle for this country's independence, according to Mark Kurlansky's lyrical, historical fish tale "Cod," a New York Times bestseller. This simple white fish became tangled in the great trade and fishing rights battles of the 1700s. Cod's abundance - and potential profit - in the area of the Grand Banks in Newfoundland became central to New England's commercial trade disputes with the British. But years of overfishing in the Grand Banks has depleted Atlantic cod stocks. Most of today's commercial salt cod originates in the Alaskan Pacific region.

The preparation of salt cod cakes is quite simple, but does take planning. The cod must be rinsed in multiple changes of water, then soaked overnight in water to reconstitute. The reconstituted fish, now swollen to nearly the size when it was fresh, is rinsed again thoroughly, then gently poached in milk. The result is a flavorful, firm fish that adds great depth to seafood dishes like salt cod cakes.

After assembling the cod cakes, they are pan-fried before finishing in the oven.

"One of the most important considerations when you are pan-frying is to have the oil at the right temperature," says Phil Delaplane, assistant professor in culinary arts at The Culinary Institute of America. Delaplane adds, "Take a small amount of breading and put it into the oil. If it does nothing, the oil is not ready. If it starts to burn, it is too hot. The breading should begin to fry gently and turn golden brown."

Served with a flavorful remoulade sauce, the CIA's recipe for Salt Cod Cakes will be the best catch on your New England menu.



1 pound salt cod filet

Water as needed

2-2/3> cups milk

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1-1/2 cups onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1-2/3 cups Russet potatoes (2-3 large), peeled

1 egg

1 tablespoon brown mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Tabasco sauce to taste

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

Salt and black pepper to taste

1 cup Panko Japanese bread crumbs

12 slices bacon

Vegetable oil to pan-fry as needed

12 toothpicks


Rinse the salt cod in several changes of water. Soak the salt cod overnight in a large amount of water in the refrigerator.

The next day, remove the salt cod from the water. Cut the cod into large chunks and simmer in the milk for 15 minutes.

Discard the milk and rinse off the salt-cod under cold water. Taste the cod - it should not be salty. Roughly chop the cod. Chill.

Saute the onions and garlic in butter over medium-low heat until translucent, about 8 minutes. Chill.

Cut potatoes into sixths and simmer in water until they are tender, about 8-10 minutes. Drain well.

Mash potatoes lightly or mill through a ricer. Lightly combine potatoes and salt cod, leaving large flakes of cod visible.

Add the eggs, mustard, Worcestershire, Tabasco, parsley, sweated onions and garlic, salt, and black pepper. Check seasonings and chill at least 20 minutes before forming.

Form mixture into 12 rounded cod cakes. Bread lightly in Panko and then wrap a piece of bacon around the outside of the cod cake. Secure bacon with a toothpick.

Pour vegetable oil in a large sauté pan to approximately 1/2-inch depth. Oil should come about halfway up the cod. Heat oil to 350 degrees.

Pan-fry the cod cakes to set the crust and brown lightly, turning once. Remove and drain on paper towels. Finish baking in a shallow pan in a 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes or until heated through.

Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional information per cod cake: 270 calories, 14 grams protein, 10 grams fat, 30 grams carbohydrates, 470 milligrams sodium, 50 milligrams cholesterol.



1 cup mayonnaise

1 heaping tablespoon capers, chopped

1 tablespoon gherkin pickles (sour), chopped

1 tablespoon chives, chopped

1/2 tablespoon chervil, chopped

1/2 tablespoon tarragon, chopped

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste

Salt, black pepper to taste

Worcestershire sauce to taste

Tabasco sauce to taste


Combine all ingredients; mix together well.

Refrigerate until just before serving. Adjust the seasoning if necessary.

Serves 10.

Nutritional information per serving: 90 calories, 0 grams protein, 8 grams fat, 6 grams carbohydrates, 410 milligrams sodium, 5 milligrams cholesterol.