A Salt Cod Breakfast

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Years ago I was lamenting to my daughter that I miss salt cod. At the time she lived in London, and assured me she could grab some for me at a local Portuguese market. And indeed, before a summer visit, she purchased some and put it in her suitcase.

Did you catch the word “summer?” I picked her up at the airport in Oklahoma City, then we went to lunch and did some shopping…. all the while forgetting about the salt cod in the trunk of my car. Well, that was a lesson learned. Do not ever leave salt cod in a hot car!

But I finally have my hands on some salt cod after years of searching, thanks to Whole Foods. This recipe is an attempt to duplicate a dish my mother made years ago. I’m not sure about the specifics, but I think I remember all of the major components. It involves salt cod, potatoes, onions, a white sauce and a poached egg. Capers optional, but highly recommended!

If you need information on how to prepare salt cod, please refer to Salt Cod.

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I made this breakfast dish recently in order to take better photos than I had in 2013, and I used small Yukon gold potatoes instead of red ones. In case you notice!

Salt Cod and Poached Egg with White Sauce and Capers
Serves 4

1/2 stick butter
1 large onion, sliced
4 small red potatoes, cut into 3/4″ cubes
12 ounces prepared salt cod, cut into pieces
1/4 cup whole milk
4 poached eggs, prepared at the last minute

White sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
1 3/4 cups half and half

Capers, for serving

Heat the butter in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté them for about 10 minutes. They should be nicely caramelized. Then stir in the chopped potatoes.

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Push the pieces of cod under the potatoes and onions, then pour the milk over the top. Make sure the mixture boils, then cover the skillet and turn down the heat to the lowest position. Cook for 20 minutes without disturbing it.

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After cooking, the mixture will look like this:

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To make the white sauce, melt 1/2 stick butter in a pan over medium heat. When it has completely melted, add the flour and whisk together well. Then pour in the half and half, whisking all the while, and continue mixing until it thickens. See white sauce if you’ve never made one. If you like, season the sauce with black or white pepper.

To prepare the individual servings, divide the salt cod, potato and onion mixture between four bowls. Partially cover with the white sauce, and gently add the poached eggs.

I also like adding cayenne pepper flakes or Tabasco sauce to this dish. Just for some zing.

Salt Cod

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Salt cod has been very difficult for me to find, but for years I’ve been on a mission for find it because I have great memories of the ways my mother used to cook with it. We lived in Seattle for three years when I was growing up, and I’m guessing because of the abundance of cod in Puget Sound, that salt cod was more prevalent there as well.

As a child I remember loving the little wooden box that it came in – the top slid in and out and it was just so cute. Unfortunately, I could never quite get rid of the nasty fishy smell, so the cute box never remained in my possession for long…

For any of you not familiar with salt cod, it’s simply filets of cod that have been preserved in salt – a preservation technique from the old days. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever find it, but then miraculously found salt cod at a Whole Foods store! It still exists! And it was in the little wooden box that I remember! I hurriedly grabbed a couple like it was a popular children’s toy at Christmas, and excitedly brought the salt cod home to start planning recipes.

When you first open up the box and unwrap the cod, you won’t be very impressed with it at all.

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What you have to do is soak it in cold water for at least two days, replenishing the water a couple of times a day. Otherwise, the cod will be too salty, and not in a good salty way.

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After the two days are up, it’s time for one final rinse, then dry on paper towels, and choose a recipe. Recipes are easy to find, especially if you look into Portuguese recipes, in which case it’s called bacalao, or Italian recipes, which is baccalà. But I’ll post a few salt cod recipes, as well! Watch for future posts!

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