Until four years ago, I used to teach 5th grade. I couldn't teach any grade higher than that because I couldn't do the Math. One of the things that I was to do was to prepare my students (aged 11 and 12) for the public speaking contest held in May. In preparation, I had them describe their Christmas Tradition. In the spirit of fairness, I always told them how my family and I spent our Christmas Eve.
I also used to ask any Educational Assistant that would be in my classroom working with special needs students to tell about how their family spent Christmas. One year it was Grace Stinellis who loved her job and loved working with children. She did more than her share of work and was a joy to have in my classroom.
I asked her to go up to the front of the class where she could be seen. (She was just about the same height as my students). She started out by saying that bachalau (salt cod) was a vital part of their Christmas dinner. My ears perked and I sat up straighter in my chair. Wasn’t bachalau Portuguese? Apparently not; Grace was Italian. I’d never made salt cod and had no idea of how to make it. I don’t enjoy cooking, but this was a Christmas dish and although my Polish background didn’t include dried cod, I didn’t care. Fish is fish and a good fish recipe is always welcome, anytime.
I asked her how she made it.... for the benefit of my students, naturally. She told us it was a salad and the cod was barbequed. BARBEQUED? I liked this. That meant I could have Adam cook it on the barbeque. (I`ve not been allowed near the thing ever since I blew myself 6 feet across the deck). She was more than willing to share the recipe. She knew me well. The written instructions were four pages long.
Four days before Christmas, I started. I dutifully followed the detailed instructions. When I started to manually shred the cod, I made an interesting discovery. The bones in salt cod, although they produce more flavour and are less expensive than the boneless, produce gelatin, to the point where my fingers would get so stuck together I could not separate them and had to rinse them every three to four minutes. In retrospect, it makes an excellent glue substitute. We now purchase the boneless salt cod: it takes just a few minutes to shred.
Finally, the salad was completed. I tasted it. Hmm. Tasted it again. More hmm. The tasting went on until I realized if I didn`t stop my ``tasting`` session, there would be nothing left for Christmas Eve dinner.
It has become a staple of our annual Christmas meal, but for those of you who like salt cod, it is a most enjoyable, if different, salad to enjoy any time of the year.
It is one of those recipes that have few specific amounts. It all depends how much cod you use.
Bachalau a la Grace Stinellis
It takes three days to reconstitute the fish, and it should have one day to allow the flavours to “marry.” That means you prepare the salad for four days before you want to serve it.
Put the fish in a large bowl and pour a slow, steady stream of water onto it for 15 minutes. After that, change the water two times a day for three days. There will be no salt left in the fish.
Put the cod pieces (we buy about 4 pounds) into an oiled cage type contraption (the kind you use for barbecuing burgers or fish) as you do not want to lose a large amount of your expensive fish to the gods of the coals. I don’t know how long it will take to barbecue. It depends on how cold it is outside, how high you turn the heat, (Adam puts it on medium) how powerful your barbecue is. When it is done, (no more than 20 minutes in December) you will, as the cook, have dibs on the black bits that stick out of the cage. Put the cod into a large bowl and when it has cooled, break it up into bite sized pieces.
Fresh, chopped garlic (2 to 3 cloves; more if you like a stronger taste of garlic)
Juice of two lemons, (try one first; if it’s bland, add more)
Extra virgin olive oil, â…“ the amount of the lemon juice
A double handful (or more) of fresh chopped flat leafed parsley (there should be LOTS of green in this salad)
When you like the combination of flavours.... stop adding stuff!
Mix well. Refrigerate overnight. Taste before serving and, if needed, add whatever you think is necessary to get just the taste you like.
The next day, serve with your meal. Practice your modest look the first time you serve it to someone.
© Christine Terepora 2011