Brandade, or poached salt cod made into a fluffy sort of paste with olive oil and milk (and sometimes potatoes), dates back to the early nineteenth century, but this is chef Thomas Keller‘s updated take on the classic. The rich cod mixture is battered and deep-fried for a creamy-crisp bite, served over tomato confit and garnished with pungent fried sage. For an easier version, you can spread the brandade in a baking dish and sprinkle with panko before baking it and serving with toasted baguette, with the tomato confit and fried sage on the side for topping each round. If you want to try a main course from the chef, get Thomas Keller’s Skirt Steak with Caramelized Shallots and Red Wine Jus recipe.
Note: You can use eight ounces of prepared salt cod for this recipe if you prefer not to prepare your own; in that case, skip ahead to the rehydrating step. You can find Chef Keller’s recipes for tomato confit and garlic confit in the cookbook, but if you don’t have access to it and you want to make this now, try our Tomato Confit recipe, and Phyllis Grant’s Garlic Confit recipe. Choose a light lager for the batter; you don’t want a heavy beer to impart much flavor, mostly just its lively carbonation for an airy, crisp crunch.
- Yield: 6 servings
- Difficulty: Hard
- Total: 2 hours, plus up to 4 days to prepare and rehydrate salt cod
- Active: 2 hr
- 1 pound Atlantic cod fillet (of even thickness; about 1 inch), skin and bones removed
- kosher salt
- 1 1/2 pounds (2 large) russet potatoes
- milk (enough to cover the cod)
- 5 large cloves garlic confit, chopped to a paste
- pinch of sweet paprika
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- freshly ground white pepper
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 cup beer
- 3 to 4 cups peanut oil for deep-frying
- 18 pieces tomato confit
- 18 sage leaves
To prepare the cod:
- Measure the thickness of the cod fillet. A 1-inch-thick piece will cure in 4 days, a 3/4-inch-thick piece in about 3, so calculate the curing time based on the fillet you have. Line a container that just holds the cod and is at least 3 inches deep with about an inch of kosher salt. Nestle the cod in the salt and cover with another layer of salt. Cover and place in the refrigerator to cure. When ready, the salted cod will be very stiff.
- Rinse the salt off the fish and dry the fish with paper towels. Place on a rack set over a plate and refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours to allow all the moisture to evaporate. (At this point, the cod can be wrapped well in plastic wrap and refrigerated for several days or frozen for up to 2 months.You will need an 8-ounce piece of cod for this recipe; extra cod can be frozen for another use.)
- To rehydrate the cod, place the fish in a large, deep container and cover with 4 quarts of cold water. Soak the cod in the refrigerator for 12 to 24 hours, depending on the thickness; a 1-inch-thick piece will take the full 24 hours. Change the water every 8 hours or so. The cod is ready when it feels like fresh cod fillet again.
To make the brandade:
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Prick the potatoes with a fork, place them on an oven rack, and bake until tender, about 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, organize the remaining ingredients and equipment—it is important to work with the cod and potatoes while they are still warm. Rinse the cod and place it in a small saucepan with enough milk to cover. As soon as the potatoes are baked, place the saucepan over medium-low heat, heat the milk to just below a simmer, and poach the fish gently for 3 to 5 minutes. The poached fish should be tender and flaky. Remove from the heat.
- As soon as the potatoes are done, halve them, scoop out the flesh, and press it through the finest disk of a food mill or a ricer. At the restaurant, we then put it through a tamis (drum sieve) for an even finer texture, but that is optional. Cover the potatoes with plastic wrap to keep them warm.
- Drain the poached cod, discarding the milk; place the cod in a food processor and pulse a few times to break it up. Keep the pulsing brief; if the cod is overprocessed, it will become mushy. Add the garlic confit and paprika and pulse a few times. Add 1/4 cup of the olive oil and pulse a few times, then add another 1/4 cup and pulse. Add another 1/4 cup and pulse a few times. Then transfer to a large bowl.
- With a rubber spatula, fold half of the warm potatoes into the cod mixture. Taste the mixture and begin to add the remaining potatoes, tasting often; brandade is generally made with equal parts of potatoes and cod, but the amount of potato added depends on the saltiness of the cod—you should still be able to taste the salt cod.
- Add 3 to 4 tablespoons more olive oil; you want a good balance of potato, cod, and the fruitiness of the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and white pepper.
To make the batter:
- Mix the cake flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the beer and stir with a spoon; the batter should remain slightly lumpy and be thick. Let the batter sit for about 10 minutes, or up to 2 hours.
To make the fritters:
- Preheat the oven to 300°F.
- Roll the brandade into 18 balls of about 2 tablespoons each. Heat at least 3 inches of peanut oil to 350°F in a deep fryer or large, deep saucepan. You will need to cook the brandade in several batches. The first ones can be kept warm on a platter in the oven until all are completed. Add about half the balls of brandade to the batter and spoon batter over them to cover on all sides, then carefully place in the hot oil, without crowding. Turn the balls as necessary to brown all sides evenly; total cooking time will be 4 to 5 minutes per batch. To test for doneness, insert a metal skewer into the center of a ball.
- Remove it after a few seconds and touch your lip with the skewer: It should be warm.
- Meanwhile, when the last batch goes into the oil, put the tomato confit in a pan and warm in the oven for about 5 minutes.
- When all the brandade is cooked, throw the sage leaves into the hot oil and cook for a few seconds, until crisp, then drain on paper towels.
- Place 3 pieces of tomato confit in the center of each plate. Place a ball of brandade on top of each piece and garnish the plates with the sage leaves and a sprinkling of salt.
Excerpted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2004. Photographs by Deborah Jones.