Thursday, April 19, 2007

Brandade De Morue

I first had Brandade de Morue (or baked salt cod) in approximately 1978 in Brasserie Lipp on the Boulevard St Germain in Paris and I was not especially impressed. Problem was that I was a teenager from a country where you have fish for every other meal at least and having fish in a restaurant was a wasted opportunity to eat meat as far as I was concerned. I returned to Brasserie Lipp about four years later and found that I loved the stuff. As a matter of fact to this day I return to Brasserie Lipp for no other reason than to have their Brandade.

Everybody seems to agree that the dish originates from Nimes in the South of France but there are a number of stories as how exactly the dish was invented and why it originates in a region that does not fish cod. The most likely explanation as far as I’m concerned is that Bretons traded salt cod with the Provençales in exchange for salt from the region. Local cooks then developed the dish over time to incorporate local ingredients and to adapt it to local tastes. Over time they then grew to love the taste.

My favourite tale of the origins of Brandade de Morue is that it was invented by Benedictine monks who decided to stretch their insufficient stock of Bacalao (Provençal for salt cod) with potatoes when faced with the sudden and unannounced appearance of an important visitor for lunch. This story, which I’ve come across several times, rings true (i.e. all the ingredients are what a Provençal kitchen would contain as a minimum even if they are broke) and the dish is sometimes know as Brandade de Morue à la Bénédictine. Unfortunately, things almost never happen in such an exciting manner and the more probable explanation is that years of trying to make a foreign food palatable was how we came to have this excellent dish.

The recipe for a basic or if you will classic Brandade is as follows:


  1. 750 gr. Salt cod;
  2. 1 large potato;
  3. 2 garlic cloves;
  4. 250 ml olive oil;
  5. Freshly ground black pepper to taste;


  • Soak salt cod at least 12 hours in cold water in the fridge, make sure you change the water at least 3 times preferably more often to remove excess salt. There is no consistency to how salty the cod is when sold so the time it takes to water the fish will vary. The idea is that the fish should be slightly more salty than a fresh fish that you’ve cooked covered in salt;
  • Put the cod in a pan of cold water and bring to a boil. Lett simmer for about 10 minutes;
  • Drain cod, and place in fresh water for 10 minutes;
  • Boil potato, remove skin and pass it through a sieve;
  • Flake the cod to remove any skin or bones;
  • Pound the cod and garlic to a paste in a mortar and combine with the potato;
  • (or you can just put the cod, garlic and potato in to a food processor and wiz it into a paste but where is the fun in that)
  • Place the cod paste in a sauce pan over low heat and combine, slowly, with the olive oil while stirring constantly;
  • Season with pepper to taste.

That’s your basic homemade Provençal Brandade but as far as I’m concerned this is where the fun starts. There are literally a million variations that start from this point. The first variations are to add herbs (bay leaves, thym) and/or vinegar (white vine) to the soaking water. Depending on how you are actually planning on consuming the Brandade this will give a little added flavour to the dish.

It is for also very common to replace the oil with warm milk or to mix milk or oil with warm cream. I’ve even seen recipes with cream only but that is way rich for my tastes. Lemon juice as seasoning is also very common as is mixing in parsley.

The next step is in serving the Brandade. Brasserie Lipp gratinates the Bradade with cheese (I think they use Cantal) before serving it with a small salad. Another classic is to drizzle olive oil, bread crums and paprika on top before warming the Brandade up in the oven.

This weekend I intend to serve Brandade warmed up in ramekin and covered in the Mojo Rojo I discovered in the Canaries. I figure that if the Mojo Rojo made regular potatoes excellent then potatoes and salt cod should also benefit greatly from the mixture.

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