Brandade de Morue with Peppers, Olives and Arugula

I like fresh cod, but I LOVE salt cod, especially like this: Brandade de Morue with Olives, Peppers and Arugula.  Brandade is what the French, who love adding cream and shallots to everything just to see if anyone’s heart explodes, is what happens when the children of Gaul get their mitts on some morue (salt cod).  It has a rich satisfying flavor without being overwhelming, a great texture, and is terrific with uncomplicated red wines.  Successful marriages have been based on less.  It’s a standard in our house–we eat it by special request (birthdays), on Christmas Eve, and whenever somebody says, Gee, it’s been awhile since we’ve had brandade.  

Once upon a time brandade was made by soaking and cooking salt cod, pounding it with shallots in a giant mortar, then gradually incorporating oil into the mixture, à la mayonaise or pesto.  Potatoes were a later addition.  Unlike pesto, which many purists still muscle out in a mortar and pestle, brandade today is made in food processors.  You still have to soak salt cod overnight (or run it under cold water for 5 or 6 hours), but you’d do the same with good beans, right?  With a food processor you can skip the heavy lifting–the pounding.

Buy the best salt cod you can find.  We used the cod-in-a-box because we wanted to be sure the recipe would still be tasty with what might be the only salt cod available to readers.  But a thick, center-cut filet from the wide end of the fish near the head is much better.  With active ethnic communities of Italians, Brazilians, Azoreans and Portuguese in the Boston area, all of whom use salt cod, its easy for us to find vendors of baccala (Italian) or bacalao (Portuguese) who cut portions from intact salted sides of large fish.  If you have access to this salt-cod gold, skip the cod-in-a-box.  You can buy salt cod online–Goggle will give you lots of choices, especially if you try “baccala” as well as “salt cod.” Some of them look promising, but we haven’t tried any of them.

Many recipes call for soaking salt cod for 24 – 48 hours, changing the water multiple times.  That’s never been our experience.  When we wrote a recipe for brandade in our book, we called for 12 hours of soaking, with 3 changes of water.  Part of the problem is the variability of the cod–some is saltier than others.  Now, as a rule of thumb we soak it overnight with 1 or 2 changes of water and that’s been fine.  You can always soak it longer if it’s still too salty, but if soaks too long then the flavor is gone forever.  Salt makes things taste good.  Leave some in the fish.  The rehydrated cod should even taste a little too salty–after all, you’re going to be mixing it with other things.  Jody explains below.

Some recipes turn the brandade into a smooth puree.  Personally I prefer more texture than less, even a bit of chewiness.  It’s up to you.  Just keep an eye on what’s happening with the food processor.  Similarly, with potatoes, less is more.  You should still be able to taste the cod after you’ve added everything else.  If your cod is mild, or you accidentally soak it too long, cut back on the potatoes.

There are lots of other ways of enjoying salt cod beside brandade–Venetian style, with polenta and tomatoes, is one that comes immediately to mind–and we may get to them down the road, but in our house, brandade is still king.  Enjoy.  Ken

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Brandade de Morue with

Peppers, Olives and Arugula


  • 1 pound salt cod
  • 1 medium baking potato (6 ounces)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 shallots, minced
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice, as needed
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley
  • 2 red peppers, roasted and peeled and cut into ¼-inch julienne strips
  • 1/3 cup Nicoise or other small black olives, pitted
  • 4 cups arugula
  • 1 loaf rustic bread, sliced ½-inch thick and toasted
  1. Soak the salt cod overnight in a large non-reactive bowl of cold water, changing the water 1 or 2 times.  When finished, the cod should not be completely salt free or it will lose its distinctive flavor.  Pinch off a shred and taste it.  It should taste a bit saltier than fish that you’ve seasoned and cooked with salt.  Drain and rinse.  Remove any obvious bones or hard bits.  Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°.  Bake the potato until tender, about 50 to 60 minutes.  While the potato is cooking, give the rehydrated cod a final rinse, put it into a medium pot and cover with cold salted water.  Bring to just under a boil.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the fish is cooked through, about 10 minutes.  Allow to cool in the liquid.
  3. Heat ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil in a small saucepan over moderate heat.  Add the garlic and shallots and cook until soft, about 4 minutes.  Add the cream and simmer 7 minutes to reduce slightly.
  4. Split the potato in half as soon as it comes out of the oven, scoop out the steaming flesh and rice it right away.  If you don’t have a ricer, push the potato through a sieve with large holes.  If you don’t rice the potato while it’s still warm it will turn into a  gummy mess.
  5. Drain the cod and pat dry with paper towels.  Remove the skin and bones with your fingers, then put the cod into a food processor and pulse a few times to break it into coarse pieces.  Add the garlic-cream mixture in a steady stream with the machine running.  Don’t over process.  Transfer the cod and cream to a medium bowl, add the potato and stir until everything’s mixed well.   Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.  The saltiness of soaked salt cod varies quite a bit, so you’ll have to taste the brandade and, if necessary, add more salt and lemon juice.  Add additional lemon juice only ½ teaspoon at a time, mix thoroughly, and taste again.  Stir in the parsley.
  6. If not using the brandade immediately, cover and refrigerate for up to a week.
  7. Preheat oven to 450° (if it’s not on already).
  8. Transfer the brandade to a gratin dish and bake until heated through a thin crust has formed, about 20 minutes.
  9. Toss the peppers, olives and arugula together with the remaining olive oil and a tablespoon or so of lemon juice.
  10. Serve a spoonful of brandade with a big slice of toasted bread and some salad.

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Jody Notes:  

What can I say?  This is one of our favorite foods.  Our kids have loved it from the get-go.   For a long time Roxanne thought it was a kind of French chicken salad.  We’d eat it for supper one night with roasted peppers and it would make its way into a sandwich in her lunch box the next day.  After serving one Christmas Eve both Roxanne and Oliver expected it at subsequent  yuletide dinners.  Go figure.  

Leftovers are a good thing because it’s so versatile.  Serve it as a dip, use it to fill ravioli, stuff peppers or as a layer lasagna.  Cold brandade makes a great sandwich, especially with a bit of spicy mayo.  Add a little cream or olive oil and toss it with spaghetti.  Serve it under poached eggs for breakfast with some tomatoes.  

But not all salt cod is equal.  The quality depends on the original quality of the fish and how it was treated.  Some is very tough, even after it’s soaked (although less likely if you buy a thick piece from a whole side).  That’s when you have to be on your culinary toes and be ready to make adjustments.  Sometimes it needs more potatoes, sometimes more cream.  Sometimes to balance the flavors you need to add more lemon juice.  Taste and make the necessary tweaks.  

BTW… I added a little more cream to this batch after the photo session was over.  You can see in the photo it’s a little firm and needed it. 

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Go ahead; click on something to see it in its full-sized glory.  Left and right arrow keys will move you through the photos.

41 thoughts

  1. I love starting Friday mornings reading your blog…each entry makes me smile! This recipe and the photos have convinced me that maybe I should give salt cod another chance…looks a lot better than the yucky stuff my grandmother used to try to get us to eat or maybe that stuff was fin and haddie! Cheers, BA

    • Hi BA–I wouldn’t say that salt cod is ever yucky, but if you get a batch that’s mostly trimmings rather than filets, it can be a pain in the neck picking out all of the skin and bones after you’ve poached it. Finnan haddie! Now you’ve given me another idea for a post. Poor finnan haddie is often maligned because the only way many people have eaten it is with a poorly thickened milk sauce after it’s been poached. Done properly, it’s delicious, either with a cream sauce or in kedgeree (sp?). Ken

  2. Another “can’t wait to make” experience…thanks for the guidance and pictures to break it all down for success. My sister comes in from Boston for Christmas and I’ll have the shopping done so we can start when she walks in the door. We’re both adventurous and this looks perfect next try.

  3. Ken, I responded to your Ada Boni/Marcella Hazen comment on my blog and I hope you get a chance to read it. Here in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle, we’ve got cod coming out of our ears, courtesy of our Scandinavian fishing legacy. Our family’s tastes run more towards black cod and I confess, I’ve never considered seeking out or preparing salt cod. Now, thanks to this post (and the garlic and cream), I will seek it out. Seattle has a neighborhood where its limited Italian population settled that used to be called Garlic Gulch. We must have salt cod around here somewhere. Thanks, as always, for the Friday morning sustenance of food and especially words. It was much needed and much appreciated this busy day, during this busy season. Happy holidays to you and yours. (Christmas Eve dinner for us — Dungeness crab. It would be interesting to write a coffee table book about regionally inspired Christmas Eve dinners).

    • And the same to you. Since I’ve eaten 4 pounds of salt cod in the last two weeks, including a recent birthday dinner, we’re going to switch things up this year. We alway have an orphan dinner on Christmas Eve, inviting whomever we know in the food world who’s stuck in town because of work to stop by for food, drink and merriment. This year I think we’re going with duck, not sure how yet. In the past we’ve also done cassoulet, always a treat, but VERY time consuming to make, which can be fine, just not this year. Again, best wishes . Ken

  4. This looks delicious. My husband and I make a trip to the North End in Boston before Christmas to get the lovely thick pieces of salt cod for our Christmas eve meal.

    • That’s great! I love hearing about people buying particular things from particular places for special meals. We depend on the Italian neighborhood in Providence for parmigiano reggiano or arborio rice for our goose risotto on the day after Christmas. Ken

  5. Very nice! My dad hates Brandade, so we never had it at home (plus I was a picky child and would probably have refused to even taste it), but I rediscovered it as an adult, and love it. Thanks for the recipe, and the salad sounds like the perfect side dish!

  6. I had my first encounter with salt cod this summer at the tippy-top of Norway…I wanted to like it so badly, but it was served straight out of a pot of boiling water alongside boiled potatoes and boiled eggs. Bland and sadly bleak (but I DID feel like a legit Norwegian sailor).

    This looks like just the ticket! Salt cod redemption, coming up.

    • I’m told that pieces of blanched salt cod, cleaned up and trimmed, is sometimes served with lemon wedges as a kind of antipasto. I’ve never encountered, but with high-quality cod, I could definitely see it–even more with a smear of spicy mayo. Good luck with the brandade. Let me know how it turns out. Ken

  7. I’ve never cooked with salt cod myself, but I sure have enjoyed a lot of other folks’ efforts: fabulous salt cod hash from a friend’s Mainer stepfather, acras de morue at markets in Provence, and, yes, brandade. Yours looks terrific.

    • Thanks. You should really give it a try. It’s not difficult at all (plus you’re going to be rewarded with something REALLY EASY next week). “Acras de morue”? I’ve spent a lot of time in Provence, but never encountered that term – what does it mean? Ken

  8. Super post. One of my favourite things to eat in the whole world full stop. A place called Cul-de-sac here in Rome does a pretty good version ( they call baccalà mantecata). Now I want some.

    • Hi, Rachel–We share tastes. Salt cod is great. The name of the restaurant–Cul-de-Sac–is French, so I assume the “whipped cod” you mention is brandade. I think we’re making your panforte in the next day or two–you upped the stakes with the candied orange peel instructions ( Something tells me I’ll be preparing the candied peel and then Jody will be taking over. Merry Christmas! Ken

    • We did a version of this in our cookbook. We keep hearing back from people how they made it once and now everyone expects it on certain days of the year. We don’t claim the credit–brandade is just really great stuff! Let us know how it goes. Thanks for stopping by. Ken

  9. I just finished making this fish dip. The taste and ingredients are a cross between the Greek garlic spread, scordalia ,and the fish roe dip, taramasalata. I used dried salt cod that I had soaked in water for two days in the refrig. It worked out fine. The taste is nice ,you have to like fish. The recipe didn’t explain what to do with the third of potatoes removed. I added some of them back to mellow the fish flavor. This is a good recipe for Lent.

    • I love all of the things you mentioned in your comment. Maybe we need to do a post about taramasalata! The potatoes are added back in step 5. Sorry about your comment getting caught up in our spam filter. Hope to hear from you again. Ken

  10. I remember having brandade as part of our New Year’s Eve meal when I was a child, since salt cod is considered a lucky food for the new year in Portuguese culture (or at least, it was in my mother’s family)… thanks for ressurecting those memories. Unfortunately, I can’t stand the smell of salt cod while it’s soaking, so I’ll live vicariously through this post.

    • Sorry about the delay responding. For some reason the spam filter was a little overzealous on this post regarding some of the comments. Funny, I don’t find the smell off-putting, although obviously some people do. I’d say, just keep it covered in the fridge, while it’s soaking, but hey, it’s your nose. :-) Glad to revive a few memories of Christmas Eve. Ken

  11. The process is a bit daunting (it involves soaking a massive fillet of salt cod overnight) but well worth the effort. The friends we had over for dinner definitely appreciated it as they wiped their ramekins clean with every last scrap of bread. I have a feeling brandade is about to be the next big thing. Like macaroni and cheese and short ribs before it, it’s comforting, hearty, creamy and straightforward. And it’s easy enough to make even for a loser like me without a food processor. Yes, I made it in the blender. I love a little cod flavor in my smoothies, don’t you?

    • Claudio, thanks for your comments. I only recently discovered that a raft of comments on this post were picked up as spam for some unknown reason, including yours. I wouldn’t quite describe the cod as “massive” :-), but it does involve a little forethought. For the record, you can also make it with a mortar and pestle (in lieu of either a blender or a food processor); you can even shred it by hand and then simply chop it coarsely, mixing everything together in a bowl. Thanks for commenting. Ken

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