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Salt Cod Diary


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Hi Linda... I had not seen this thread when you asked about the pics of dried fish I took at my local Mexican market:


The last I went back I asked around the market what people do with the Salt Cod... I should mention at this time that a disproportionate amount of Mexicans in Sonoma County come from either Eastern Michoacan (near the border with Mexico State) or from the Lower Mixteca in Oaxaca. Apparently, Salt Cod is a bit of specialty in that region of Michoacan because all the employees & customers overhearing were quick to tell me about their favorites... as best as I could I jotted down about half a dozen dishes I personally had never heard of:

Croquetas de Papa y Bacalao con Salsa de Molcajete (Potato & Salt Cod Croquettes served with a chunky, roasted tomato-jalapeno salsa)

Bunuelos de Bacalao (The name intrigued me a bit but after asking about the technique it sounds identical to the Croquettes but without the Tomato Sauce)

Bacalao en Petate (Salt Cod on a Sleeping Mat = Sliced Potatoes & Onions interlaced in a baking dish, then a thick Tomato-Ancho Sauce spooned over the, on top of that is the Salt Cod with some kind of bread crumb topping, everything baked off until the bread crumb mixture toasts)

Aporreado de Bacalao (Flaked Salt Cod in a similar sauce of Tomatoes, Chiles, Olives, White Wine... as with Bacalao a la Veracruzana, Bacalao a la Mexicana etc.,)

Caldo de Bacalao (Salt Cod & Potato Soup with Spicy Tomato Broth)

Bacalao Tamales (Similarly seasoned tomato paste applied to fish wrapped in Masa)

Bacalao en Hojaldra (Salt Cod in Pastry)

Bacalao en Frio (Salt Cod desalted, rehydrated then chilled served in layers with Mushrooms en Escabeche)

Garbanzos con Bacalao (Salt Cod & Chickpea Salad with Pureed Roasted Poblano, Olive Oil, Vinager & Garlic dressing)

I was struck by the number of potato dishes, and remembered how much potatoes this store sells.... I should note at this time that the natives of what is now the Eastern Michoacan highlands around Patzcuaro & Morelia etc., are a people known as the Purepecha whose Purhe language has puzzled linguists because it is closer to Andean languages than to Mesoamerican languages. The leading food historians of Mexico assert that potatoes were common in Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest of the Andes ... perhaps this puzzle pieces fit together.

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How did you cook the cod? My efforts to cook whole pieces of salt cod weren't always successful.

Thanks, Linda, and thanks also for starting this thread in the first place! I cooked the cod in a pan over medium heat until it started to get flaky and felt cooked through - say roughly 3 mins per side. I feel that thicker slices are easier to cook by browning them quickly in a pan before finishing off in a medium hot oven for 8 - 10 mins (again until it starts to look flaky on the sides).

I hope to see more of your own salt cod experiments soon, Linda :smile:

Thanks for the report, EatNopales! I found the pastry + salt cod combination interesting, and after googling "bacalao en hojaldre", found a blog post with a recipe that looks quite delicious: Bacalao en hojaldre con salsa de piquillos.

Edited by hansjoakim (log)
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EatNopales, that's a really interesting and varied list. I'll do some research but in the meantime I hope you'll try some of them for us. The only salt cod recipe from Mexico I'd run across was the traditional Christmas recipe you mentioned in your blog, chiles rellenos de bacalao. I posted on them uptopic here, really delicious.

One thing I noticed in that and other recipes was how beautifully salt cod paired with chilis. Truly a magical combination. I should take Jenni's advice and learn more about Caribbean use of salt cod, which I imagine makes good use of habaneros.

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EatNopales, on 19 September 2011 - 10:56 AM, said:

LindaK, on 19 September 2011 - 04:42 AM, said:

EatNopales, that's a really interesting and varied list. I'll do some research but in the meantime I hope you'll try some of them for us. The only salt cod recipe from Mexico I'd run across was the traditional Christmas recipe you mentioned in your blog, chiles rellenos de bacalao. I posted on them uptopic here, really delicious.

One thing I noticed in that and other recipes was how beautifully salt cod paired with chilis. Truly a magical combination. I should take Jenni's advice and learn more about Caribbean use of salt cod, which I imagine makes good use of habaneros.

Hi Linda, without getting to deep into the complexity of Mexico's socioeconomic webs, I do want to provide some context to the following statement.... Mexican cookbooks, whether they be authored by Diana Kennedy, Rick Bayless, Patricia Quintana or Monica Patino... tend to be a very superficial / poor source for interesting / deep / regional Mexican dishes. The culinary message to the outside world tends to be manipulated by people of Upper Middle Class & Wealthy background... not because of anything nefarious... just that they have the communication tools to dominate the discussions. When I read Diana Kennedy's books & she relates how she finds these various cooks there is always some very wealthy woman involved in making the connection. These connections are almost always the result of... Diana is introduced to someone who has a cook who happens to be from x placed and introduced her to a dish she wasn't familiar with.

The economic structure of Mexico is such that even Middle Class people can afford to hire help. My cousin Ibis, in his early 30's, is a public accountant in Aguascalientes he is making $3,500 USD a month.. not a whole lot of money but he owns a small townhome outright, they have a newish car, his wife stays at home, they don't own many widgets but they have a full time domestic employee who does all the cooking. This brings me to the fact that very few Middle & Upper Middle Class Mexicans actually know how to cook... some of Mexico's lauded "chefs" really just hire a crew of working class Mexicans to do all the cooking, the chef might have the business know how & might have some talent at plating & producing a stylish dining environment but they aren't strong, volume tested chefs who came up the ranks of the cutthroat restaurant world. I just saw an interview with Monica Patino where she talked about the culinary culture that predominated upper crust Mexico in the early 70's... chefs & ingredients were imported from France... she was part of the vanguard that "introduced" the Upper Middle Class & Wealthy of Mexico to Mexican cuisine... she literally did not know how to make tortillas when she started her first Mexican restaurant. We are now in the 4th decade of the Re-Mexicanization of cuisine in Mexico but you can see how everything on press, famous restaurant menus etc., is really based on the limited knowledge of a small number of these Upper Middle Class people who love what they are doing & are doing a good job but there are inherent limits.

With that context in mind... I want to mention the Mexican cooking magazines.... the working classes of Mexico generally don't buy cookbooks, definitely not hardbound, beautiful, coffee table type books that are the staple in the U.S. Instead they buy inexpensive, highly focused resources that range from a post card with a couple of recipes, to inexpensive magazines such as those by Editorial Mango that either focus on a dish genre (for example I own the issue "40 Chiles Rellenos" from the series Caprichos y Antojos... there are many series with names like Cocina Facial, Cocina Economica, Cocina Regional etc.,). The 40 Chiles Rellenos has 35 traditional, regional specialties & 5 original recipes... that is a common balance. These magazines, and the CONACULTA series covering rural areas etc., is where you find a more true representation of the bounty of Mexican cooking. $ for $ these magazines provide much more interesting, deep rooted, regional dishes than even the most lauded cookbooks around.

I pick up the Editorial Mango magazines at my local Mexican market, and vaguely remember seeing an issue on Bacalao... I looked up their website & sure enough 25 recipes with Bacalao & Romeritos (a native Mexican green that has a vague rosemary flavor & is in season at the same time that Bacalao consumption surges... Christmas through Easter)



Link to Editorial Mango cooking magazines

25 Bacalao & Romerito Dishes

Full Blown Traditional Mexican Christmas Dinner

A typical Christmas Eve dinner in Mexico City involves a first course of Bacalao & Romerito based Apps. Second course is some version of a baroque winter salad, Third course is baked pork loin or leg. Fourth course is Turkey. After that comes a fruit based salad. Lastly comes Bunuelos & Rompope (homemade rum laced eggnog). White Wine is served with the first course. Alcoholic punch with Salad, Pork & Turkey. Coffee spiked with Tequila, Rum or Moonshine is served afterwards.

BTW... dinner begins around 1:30AM (the time people typically get back from midnight church service) at ends at the crack of dawn. There is lots of music & dancing between courses... and bohemias (singing along to guitar accompaniment) after dessert.

Edited by EatNopales (log)
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  • 4 weeks later...

Happy fall everyone. It probably isn’t fair that salt cod feels out of place in the midst of summer vegetables. But now that cool weather is here I’ve been wondering where to start again. Then I had a fabulous bowl of clam chowder recently and all became clear. Chowder, that’s what I wanted.

Not so simple. I found few recipes or writings about salt cod in soups or chowders. Everyone seemed in agreement that the flavor was too dominant or not worthy compared to fresh fish or bivalves. Even New England chef Jasper White, in his meticulously researched book, 50 Chowders, says that he can’t “get excited about a chowder made only with salt cod.”

Then I stumbled across Garlic Soup with Bacalao. Thank you, Daniel Boulud.

Despite the list of ingredients—potatoes, onions, stock, cream—that looks like most other chowder recipes, this is a sophisticated dish. Fresh fennel, sauteed along with the onions, leeks, and garlic, adds an herbal note. Boulud has you infuse freshly crushed coriander seed in the mixture while it simmers, which is an inspired addition—its light citrus spice and aroma are a knockout with the salt cod. The soup is pureed so it’s smooth, not chunky. I topped my bowl with a few croutons spread with a simple parsley-garlic pesto.


It’s best prepared a day ahead of time. I made it Sunday night and thought, good. I had it for dinner on Monday and thought, wow.

It’s hard to make a picture of white soup in a white bowl look interesting, but trust me, the flavor was swoon-worthy. Exotic brandade transformed into soup. Next time I’m going try a chunky version to see how that works.

I have a chowder lined up for the weekend. Stay tuned.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I made a spontaneous batch of salt cod fritters last night. A couple of days ago I took some pre-soaked cod out of the freezer to make more chowder. That never happened. But the cod had defrosted and I didn’t want to waste it. In its salted state, it can sit around more or less indefinitely. Once soaked, I assumed I should treat it like fresh fish.

So I decided on a fritter experiment. Jasper White’s book, 50 Chowders, has a recipe for salt cod fritters that looks significantly different from those I’ve posted about previously. They all have some herb, onion, garlic, and egg binder, but this one has a much higher starch – salt cod ratio than the others.

For comparison, here are the author and main ingredients for three different fritter recipes:

New England--Jasper White: 8 oz salt cod—10 oz potato—1 cup flour

Catalan--Coleman Andrews: 16 oz salt cod—2 medium (roughly 10 oz) potatoes—1/3 cup flour

Portuguese--David Leite: 10 oz salt cod and 4 oz shrimp—16 oz potato—no flour

What a difference the flour makes. These fritters were more bread-like and the salt cod flavor much less pronounced. These are the fritters I grew up with, which are served as a side dish with chowders. They were light and tasty, but without question their flavor pales in comparison to those which use all or mostly potato and allow the distinctive flavor of the salt cod to shine. They’re good as a side, but if you’re serving them as tapas, you want the Catalan or Portuguese version.

Sorry Jasper! Sorry Mom!

No pics, the camera battery was dead. I will get to that chowder soon, and will ready the camera.

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I also missed this topic the first time 'round. A mention should be made of Fanesca, which is, in my humble opinion, one of the best uses out there for Bacalao. It's a traditional Easter dish in Ecuador (and was a traditional pumpkin-harvest dish before the Spaniards came). Here's the recipe I use when I make Fanesca; I got it from my Abuela Fidelina, who is from Cuenca and who is an excellent cook. Fanesca is dependent on the Bacalao retaining some of its delicious saltiness.

Makes 50 plates, and takes about 4 hours on the day you're going to serve it (and about 2 hours the night before).


500 g (1 lb) long grain white rice

10-12 L (2.5-3 gal) Whole Milk (3% minimum), no other

1 L (1/4 gal) Full-Fat Cream (35% minimum), no other

4 C Peanuts, shelled and husked

6 C Leeks, the white portion only, chopped finely

6 oz (12 TBSP) Butter, unsalted

3 TBSP Butter whipped with achiote (annatto)*

2 C Garlic, blendered with enough milk to make it a liquid

2 kg (4.4 lbs) Bacalao. White Bacalao is best.

Salt, black pepper, to taste

2 TSP Ground Cumin

4-6 TSP Oregano

2 TSP Ground Cinnamon

3 TSP Brown Sugar

6 C Squash meat, steamed until it is tender, and mashed (in Ecuador, a large squash similar to Acorn is used.)

4 C Pumpkin meat, steamed until it is tender, and mashed (in Ecuador, a large squash called Kobucha is used. It's called pumpkin, but it's not, really.)

6 C Lupines (Lupini beans), peeled

10 C White corn kernels, boiled until tender

6 C Green peas, steamed until bright green

6 C White cabbage, julienned and steamed

8 C Young fava beans, peeled and cooked

6 C Young strawberry or red beans, peeled and cooked

1 shot Sherry Brandy


1. Boil the peanuts in enough milk to cover them, until they become tender. Blender these with the liquid they were cooked in, and set this aside.

2. Soak the Bacalao in enough water to cover it.

3. Cook and peel all of the grains and legumes. Reserve the water in which the corn was boiled.

4. Steam the cabbage, squash, and pumpkin.

5. Cook the rice in milk and set aside.


1. Boil the Bacalao in 1 L of milk. Drain and reserve the liquid.

2. Fry the leek and garlic in the butter and achiote butter until they glassify.

3. Add 1 C of the water in which the corn cooked, and boil until the garlic loses its metallic flavour.

4. Add the peanut liquid, and cook for 3-4 minutes.

5. Add the rice and 2L of milk, and a bit of all of the spices.

6. Drain and cut the Bacalao into tiny pieces. Add the milk in which it was boiled to the pot.

7. Add the squash, pumpkin, and cabbage.

8. When it comes to a boil again, add the grains and legumes one by one in the following order: lupines, corn, beans, peas, favas.

9. Add the cream, the rest of the milk, and the rest of the seasonings.

10. Keep stirring as it boils. Don't scrape the bottom or sides of the pot - that is where the stuff that tastes bad is collecting. Don't put a lid on it either - just stand there and stir.

After about 3 and a half hours, the Fanesca is ready to eat. Serve it immediately.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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PanCan, thanks for adding Fanesca to the list. I've never heard of it before, but I can easily imagine how well pumpkin and squash would work with salt cod. If I can find a scaled-down recipe, I'd love to try it. If you make it next Easter, I hope you'll come back and add a photo.

I'm curious about your instructions not to scrape the bottom or the sides of the pan as it cooks. What exactly is the "stuff that tastes bad" that you're avoiding? Doesn't it burn?

Meanwhile, back in Boston, last night’s snowstorm was an appropriate backdrop for a chowder featuring salt cod. I’m not sure what makes this a chowder vs. a fish stew, but whatever it’s called, it was delicious—but perhaps not to everyone’s taste.

I’ve mentioned local chef Jasper White’s cookbook, 50 Chowders, a couple of times now. Its primary focus is on shellfish and fish chowders, though not exclusively. It’s a great resource not only for recipes but for understanding the basic ingredients, especially shellfish stocks and broths—the key to good chowder.

There’s only one chowder in the book that uses salt cod—Azorean-Style Chowder. Its premise is a real departure from most other recipes with salt cod. Instead of trying to tame its flavor, Jasper matches it with other full-flavored ingredients—mussels, squid, and mackerel. You can substitute within those families (I used clams, not mussels), but the idea is to balance a variety of seafood flavors and textures. The broth uses the cooking liquid from the mussels (or in my case, clams) with white wine and tomatoes, onion, garlic, and bit of saffron and hot pepper. Simple but very, very good. Throw in some potatoes, add your seafood, and you’ve got a great chowder. I loved it, but recognize that not everyone likes such strong flavors. It made me pretty happy, though, even with snow falling outside in October.


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Basically, the stuff that accumulates on the sides of the pot is a combination of excess salt, casein, and lignins from the legumes. It's truly awful, and no, it doesn't burn. Fanesca is simmered on the lowest possible heat, and the constant motion of the liquid in the center of the pot tends to bleed off enough heat to keep the nastiness congealed without causing it to form charcoal lumps either...

And I suspect you can cut that recipe in 4 and still come out with the same result - I've never tried cutting it, myself. However, I will absolutely come back at Easter and post pictures of Fanesca.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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  • 2 weeks later...

A colleague at work told me that her grandmother used to make a fish pie using salt cod, greens, and sweet potatoes, spiced up with some scotch bonnet chilis and with creamed coconut in the sauce. It sounded good, and I've been meaning to make it for a while, but only recently saw the type of creamed coconut she told me to use (it's a solid block, not liquid). So I made it for lunch yesterday.

The cod and greens (I used spinach) are bound by a basic bechamel flavored with a bit of the creamed coconut and fresh cilantro:


The sweet potatoes are mashed with some butter and a scant amount of finely minced habanero pepper. I love the flavor but I can only take so much of their heat. Topped off the filling with the potatoes, sprinkled with cilantro, and baked until bubbly:


It was very tasty. I'm not completely sold on using the coconut in the sauce. I used very little so it wasn't overly sweet, but I think when I try it again I'll want to add some warm spices (nutmeg, allspice maybe) to balance it. But the creamy fish, greens, and chili-sweet potato combination is wonderful.

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A colleague at work told me that her grandmother used to make a fish pie using salt cod, greens, and sweet potatoes, spiced up with some scotch bonnet chilis and with creamed coconut in the sauce. It sounded good, and I've been meaning to make it for a while, but only recently saw the type of creamed coconut she told me to use (it's a solid block, not liquid). So I made it for lunch yesterday.

Do you know the origins of this dish (your colleague's nationality)? Caribbean/Jamaican?

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Yes, she's Jamaican. Since I know very little about Caribbean food and it's been suggested here a few times, I asked her in the hope she'd have a cookbook to recommend. It turns out that she doesn't do much cooking herself. But when I mentioned salt cod, she had all sorts of fond memories of her grandmother's cooking with saltfish. This was the one dish she could describe in enough detail for me to figure out on my own.

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Has anyone else had any difficulty finding some form of salt cod where they live?

In Denmark, it had a long tradition (and is called klipfisk), but asking where to find it has so far drawn alarmed/amused looks, as though I'd shoved a heaping tablespoonful of hákarl the person's face, rather than asked a question (usually, an elaboration of its appalling smell, etc. follows).

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums

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Mjx, many people find the smell of salt cod to be...choose your adjective for stinky. Uptopic, Chris Amirault mentions that the skin is the worst offender. If you find salt cod with skin, do take it off before you cook it, it will help a lot.

File this latest installment under "why the hell didn't I think of this one myself?" Potato and Salt Cod Tortilla. I saw the recipe in David Tanis's A Platter of Figs and had to make it asap.


Just lovely and simple as can be: sauteed potatoes and onions, salt cod, and eggs (I always add parsley, I like it). My only deviation from the recipe was that Tanis called for adding the soaked, shredded cod to the egg mixture without cooking it first. I was not confident that the gentle heat for cooking the torilla would fully cook the cod. Yes, I know he's the chef at Chez Panisse and I'm not. Nonetheless, I gave the cod a quick toss in the hot oil leftover from frying the potatoes and onions--and I mean quick, maybe 15 seconds. The end result was perfect: the cod was still moist when the tortilla was done.


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  • 5 weeks later...

One can’t have too many recipes for salt cod fritters.

Here’s a new one: Acras—-Senegalese salt cod fritters. Rich, flavorful, and very delicious.

Unlike most fritter recipes, there are no potatoes here. The base is a thick béchamel enriched with egg yolks and flavored with curry powder and a bit of cayenne. Use it to bind cooked and flaked salt cod into a thick batter. I added a bit of parsley for pretty. Fry as usual. Here’s a batch, note the golden color from the curry powder:


The combination of eggy base with sweet, warm spices and rich fish is addictive. This explains the blurry photo below. Guests loved them and had no patience for photos.


Btw, the recipe comes from Michael Roberts, Parisian Home Cooking. He describes these fritters as being common at Paris outdoor markets, which often have stalls offering food from former French colonies. Another reason to get back to Paris so I can fact check this statement.

I did a bit of research and also found acras recipes from Martinique. They shared the same béchamel/egg base but they were flavored with scotch bonnet chili and green onion, not curry powder.

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I used about 2 inches of oil, that was deep enough. I did need to flip them to cook both sides. Perhaps in a perfect world I should have used more oil, but I (correctly) assumed that the curry powder would permeate the oil and make it impossible to reuse. So I skimped a bit.

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I made Saltfish and Ackee once, LOVED IT!

But something seemed "off" a bit in the taste.

I did notice when I cut open the bag of the salted cod there was a slight ammonia smell.

Is that normal? Did I get a bad bag?

No, it's not normal. Or rather I should say, it's not good. I've only experienced the ammonia smell with fresh fish, which is a sure sign that it's not fresh at all and should be discarded. I've never noticed it with salt cod but if I did, I wouldn't eat it.

Still, I'm curious about how you prepared it with ackee. I've never tasted it, much less cooked with it.

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Linda I cannot remember where I found the Saltfish and Ackee recipe I used but It was something like this


eta: The Ackee was like very ripe Avocado, but had no real flavor, but it was good, very mild

Wawa Sizzli FTW!

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  • 3 weeks later...

In case you missed them, there are some beautiful salt cod fritters and salads happening over in the Dinner! topic, here and here.

Santa gave me a variety of nut oils as a gift, and I remembered the brandade with walnut oil that Dave Hatfield suggested uptopic here. So along with a salad, that was last night’s dinner.


Unlike most brandade, there’s no cream in this one. Instead, it’s enriched with eggs and walnut oil. The nutty flavor is very subtle but quite distinctive. Delicious.

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Regarding the recipe for Arròs amb Capetes de Totero that LindaK posted upthread: OMFG. So good. And so good with a sauvignon blanc. And did not require any forethought! I love salt cod so much but fail at planning ahead. I'm so happy to have discovered this dish. Thank you, Linda!

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Diana, I’m so glad you liked it. Next time I make it I will remember your sauvignon blanc suggestion, that sounds like a fantastic pairing.

I’m curious, what kind of rice did you use? I’ve made this a few times now, and have been happiest with a medium grain Spanish rice. The one time I substituted Arborio rice, it seemed awfully starchy to me.

This has become one of my favorite cold weather comfort food recipes, not only because it’s delicious but, like you, I’m really bad at planning ahead. Though if I have learned anything over the course of this past year, it’s that soaked salt cod freezes well. If you soak some, soak extra. Pat it dry and freeze. Move it from freezer to refrigerator in the morning, it will be ready to cook by dinnertime.

Note: the post for this recipe with a picture is here. Belatedly, I found a recipe for Arròs amb Capetes de Totero on RecipeGullet here-—which somehow forgets to include salt cod in the list of ingredients! The Coleman Andrews recipe that I used calls for 6 oz unsoaked salt cod (I probably use a little more, because I’m greedy). Otherwise, the recipe is similar.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm sorry I missed your post until now, Linda. I made this again last night and used Arborio, which, I agree, too starchy. In fact I'm sitting here eating leftovers and it's even starchier and creamier than last night. The first time I made it--and I hope you're sitting down, because it's shocking heresy, although we've already established that I can't plan ahead so you shouldn't be too shocked--I used regular old Tamanishiki koshihikari, because I always have a huge sack of that. I liked it a lot better than Arborio, but if I have a sudden change of personality perhaps I'll buy some proper Spanish rice in time to make this the next time, and see how it's supposed to be done.

My husband loves this dish as much as I do, specifically requested it last night, then volunteered to make a run for tomatoes in the howling blizzard when I discovered we were out. :)

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