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Big fish

If you don't already have a favourite salt cod dish, here's your chance to create a perfect palate-pleaser

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

I'm not going to get into an argument about which country makes the best salt cod dishes. Everyone claims that their mother's version is the best anyway. But since my mother didn't ever cook with salt cod (although haam yu is another story), I'm more open-minded. You can use these recipes as a guideline and adapt them to your own tastes.

It's hard to find salt cod in Hong Kong, so buy it on your next visit to Macau.

 

Salt cod mixed with shoestring potatoes and scrambled eggs (pictured)
I've eaten many versions of this dish and my favourite is when the fried potatoes are mixed at the very last minute with the cod and eggs, so they stay crunchy.

 

350 grams dried salt cod fillet (use a larger piece if it has bones)
3 large potatoes
1 medium-sized onion
8 eggs
60ml milk (optional)
Oil, for frying
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
To serve:
Cherry tomatoes, black olives, fresh parsley sprigs

 

Rinse the salt cod under cold running water, to wash away all the salt on the exterior. Put the fish in a bowl and add enough water to cover it by about 2cm. Refrigerate the fish for about eight hours, draining it and adding fresh water as needed, as the excess salt is leeched out. Taste a small piece of the fish - it shouldn't taste salty; if it does, continue to soak it. When the fish is ready, drain off the water. With your fingers, break the fish into ragged scraps and remove and discard the skin and bones. Bring a saucepan of water to a simmer, add the fish and boil for about five minutes, then drain thoroughly.

Peel the potatoes and cut them into long, slender matchsticks. Put the potato pieces in a colander and rinse thoroughly under running water, then drain well. Spread the pieces on a clean, dry kitchen cloth and blot up the excess moisture with another cloth, then leave to air-dry for about 30 minutes. Heat oil to a depth of about 2cm in a skillet. When the oil is at 170 degrees Celsius, fry the potatoes in batches until cooked through, then drain them. After cooking all the potatoes, heat the oil to 180 degrees and fry them in batches a second time, to brown and crisp them. Drain them on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt while they're still hot.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl and season them with salt and pepper. If you like moist eggs, add the milk. Quarter the onion lengthwise then cut into thin slices. Heat 30ml of oil in a large skillet and set it over a low-medium flame. Cook the onion until soft, then add the cod pieces and a light sprinkling of salt. Increase the heat and cook, stirring often, to slightly dry out the cod. Reduce the heat and stir in the eggs. Cook the ingredients, stirring often, until the eggs are softly set (or longer if you prefer eggs scrambled "dry"). Remove from the flame, stir in the fried potatoes and transfer to a platter. Garnish with parsley sprigs and serve immediately with olives and halved cherry tomatoes.

 

Accras
I first tasted these salt cod fritters at the home of a Trinidadian friend in New York. I tasted them again more recently when I was wandering through the Bastille street market in Paris. The home-cooked ones were much better because they had a lot more salt cod.

Accras usually pack quite a bit of heat, but this version is only moderately spicy. Feel free to increase the amount of fresh chillies and cayenne pepper or chilli powder. They're usually served with a tart, spicy sauce made with incendiary Scotch bonnet chillies, but I cheat and use mayonnaise (Hellmann's please!) mixed with sriracha sauce.

 

250 grams dried salt cod fillet (or use a larger piece if it has bones)
2 red bird's-eye chillies, or more to taste
80 grams onion, roughly chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 spring onions, cut into 1cm pieces
A small handful of fresh coriander leaves
1 tsp cayenne pepper or chilli powder, or more to taste
1 tsp fine sea salt, or more to taste
½ tsp baking soda, sieved through a small strainer
70 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
1 large egg
120ml whole milk
Oil, for frying
About 150 grams mayonnaise
Sriracha sauce
Fresh lime juice

 

Desalinate, prepare and boil the fish as in the first recipe. Slit the chillies lengthwise and use a small spoon to scrape out the seeds and membrane. Roughly chop the chillies and put them into a food processor with the salt cod, onion, garlic and spring onion. Pulse to chop the ingredients, then add the fresh coriander, cayenne pepper or chilli powder and salt. Pulse until the ingredients are finely chopped. Taste a small amount of the mixture and add more salt and spice if needed. Mix in the baking soda and flour, then, with the motor running, add the egg and milk. Transfer the ingredients to a bowl and mix with a spatula.

Pour oil to a depth of 2cm in a skillet and heat to 180 degrees. Use two teaspoons to shape the mixture into rough balls, flatten them slightly then slide them into the hot oil. Stir the mixture occasionally and cook it in batches. Cook the balls until medium brown, then turn them over and fry the other side. Drain on paper towels. When they're all cooked, pile them onto a serving plate. Mix the mayonnaise with sriracha sauce and lime juice to taste, then serve with the accras.

 

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