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Salt Cod Purée (Brandade de Morue)

A beloved feature of the Provençal diet, brandade de morue can be simple to prepare once you learn its secrets. Provençal chef André Perez, who lives west of Marseilles, says that to achieve the necessary creamy consistency of brandade, the milk and olive oil must be warmed separately and are never added to the salt cod too quickly. Otherwise, they will pool in the bottom of the pan rather than form a rich emulsion.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. salt cod fillet, preferably a thick, central cut
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Freshly ground white pepper, to taste
  • 12 triangular croutons, made from dense
     sourdough bread and fried (see Note)

Directions:

Begin preparing the salt cod at least 2 days in advance of serving. Place in a large bowl, add water to cover generously, cover, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours or preferably 48 hours, changing the water at least 5 times during that period.

The day of serving, drain the salt cod and place in a saucepan. Add water to cover, place over medium heat and bring slowly to just under a boil. Simmer until the cod has softened and cooked through, 15 to 18 minutes. Drain well and, when cool enough to handle, remove any skin. Using a fork in each hand, flake the cod, removing any errant bones.

In separate small saucepans over medium heat, warm 1/2 cup of the olive oil and the milk. Remove from the heat. In a large saucepan over low heat, warm the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil. Add the flaked salt cod and work well with a wooden spatula, mashing the cod as you stir. Add the garlic and mix well. Stirring constantly, alternately add the warmed olive oil and milk, a few tablespoons at a time, allowing each addition to be fully absorbed before adding more. When all the oil and milk is incorporated, season with white pepper.

Spoon the brandade on the croutons and serve immediately. Serves 6.

Note: To panfry croutons, rub bread pieces with garlic, if desired. In a fry pan over high heat, heat 1 inch of olive oil. Add the bread to the hot oil in a single layer and fry until golden on one side, about 1 minute. Turn and fry, adding more oil as needed, until golden on the other side, about 1 minute more. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Savoring Series, Savoring Provence, by Diane Holuigue (Time-Life Books, 2002).