Salt cod is one of my favorite ingredients. As a child we would visit my Aunt's family for Christmas. They were a big Italian clan and we would always have fish for Christmas Eve. There were many different offerings but my favorites were the things that I couldn't get anywhere else. We always started the meal with spaghetti with baccala. As I remember the pasta was tossed with olive oil, salt cod, pine nuts and garlic. It was delicious. After the pasta course an array of seafood dishes were put out. There were two dishes that we would fight over, the fried baccala and the fresh sardines. The salt cod was simply dipped in flour and fried in olive oil. I loved the crispy chewy texture of it and that saline taste of the sea. The fresh sardines were also dredged and pan fried. They were served whole, although we took the heads off for my Aunt. She was and still is a bit squeamish. The beauty of eating the sardines, especially for a child, was that they were finger food. You had to peel the fillets from the backbones ever so carefully, leaving the bones intact and the fillet unbroken. My Aunt's mother would leave the leftovers in a cold oven after dinner, we ate early, and all evening long we would sneak back into the kitchen for cold baccala and sardines. The leftovers were usually gone by bedtime.
So, every so often I feel the tug of my childhood and order salt cod or sardines. Today I pulled out a side of salt cod and set it to soak under cold running water. After it was fully re-hydrated, I blanched it three times to pull out the excess salt. Then I poached it and let it steep in the liquid with some japones chili and fresh oregano. I tossed the warm flakes of fish with a cooked egg white mayonnaise, aleppo pepper and freshly ground lampong pepper. We are serving it cold tonight as the first course, with a margarita jelly (Corazon tequila, lemon and lime juices), yellow plum purée and diced watermelon. It still has that earthy flavor and chewy texture that I adore but it's a bit lighter in it's summer garb. The beauty of being a grown up is that I can have my favorite ingredients any time the mood strikes. Although I must confess, had the cod been ready in time for lunch, I would have dusted it with flour, fried it and served it alongside an heirloom tomato salad with fresh basil and McEvoy olive oil. Oh well, perhaps next week.