As I prepared for our picpoul blanc tasting I was searching for some perfect pairings. Picpoul-de-Pinet is from the south of France, the Languedoc-Roussillon region along the Mediterranean Sea, so I was searching for dishes that spoke of place. Briny oysters were definitely on the list. I headed to the Picpoul-de-Pinet web site and was able to find a recipe for Croquettes de Brandade These are salt cod croquettes that are a specialty in Languedoc and Provençe. This recipe turned out to just be the starting point as it called for “400 g de brandade de morue”, and that of course, was not something I knew how to find. I search a little more and found a recipe I could work with.
I was unfamiliar with salt cod, so I did a little research. Salt cod is a dried and salted fish that originated from the Basque region. It was originally Atlantic cod, but due to over fishing, you now find pollock, haddock and other fish being used. This method of salting and then drying the fish, originally on wooden racks in the sun, preserved the nutrients in the fish and made it tastier. In this way you could keep the fish for several years. With “meatless” Friday’s for Catholics during lent, salt cod became a staple for many families. While originating in Europe, sea trade took salt cod to Brazil, West Africa, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. I came across another name for salt cod, “bacalhau” which is a Portuguese word. Now I had a way to track some down. I am lucky to work with several beautiful Brazilians who gave me in depth details on how to work with salt cod. I ended up tracking some down at the International Market here in Las Vegas. I was expecting it to be dried, but the “bacalao” (that’s the spanish spelling) that they carried was in the refrigerated section.
I followed the instructions for soaking it overnight in water in the refrigerator with at least 3 water changes. This is to get rid of the extra salt that is used to preserve the fish. So this recipe, you need to start a day in advance.
Also in advance I made the garlic confit for the dish. Confit usually refers to a meat cooked in it’s own fat, but really the french word means “preserved” and can be anything that is slow cooked and preserved in fat. So we did this with the garlic.
- 2 to 3 heads of garlic, cloves peeled
- enough olive oil to cover
Peel the garlic, place it in a small oven proof dish and cover in olive oil. Put this in a preheated oven at 300 degrees for about 45 minutes. Let it cool a bit and pour all of it into a glass jar. You can keep this in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Now to get down to cooking the croquettes. I had an event in the afternoon so I needed to prep the croquettes in the morning and then cook them in the evening. This actually worked out well, because setting the mixture in the refrigerator allowed it to set up and be easier to handle.
Croquettes de brandade
- 1 1/2 lbs Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced
- Sea Salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 cups of whole milk
- 1/2 lb salt cod
- 2 or 3 bay leaves or thyme
- Garlic confit
- oil from confit
- 2 teaspoons of lemon zest
- 2 cups of bread crumbs
- 2 to 3 cups of frying oil
- Flaky sea salt
As I was peeling the beautiful Yukon Gold potatoes with a paring knife, I was feeling bad about wasting the peels. So I searched on the net and found a quick chip recipe. I lined a sheet pan with parchment, tossed the skins with olive oil and salt and roasted them for 15 to 20 minutes at 400 and snacked on them while I cooked! I don’t know that I would do this with all potato’s but these Yukon Golds were so beautiful and their skins were smooth and didn’t look like they had even been in the ground.
Cook the potato in salted water until tender. Drain it and let it dry briefly and then put it through a ricer. Okay, I know everyone doesn’t have a ricer. I am lucky that I inherited by Grandmother’s and I love pulling it out when I’m cooking.
If you don’t have a ricer mash the potato up with a potato masher or a fork.
Crack the eggs and add a pinch of salt and mix, then add to the potato, stir and set the mixture aside. (I skipped this step and dropped them right in the potatos, but it will incorporate more easily if you mix it separately first).
Drain the salt cod from it’s soaking water and place it in a pot add your bay leaves or sprigs of thyme (I used fresh thyme) and cover in milk. Bring it to a simmer and cook until the fish is flaky. Remove the fish from the milk and set it aside to cool.
Add 1/2 cup of the warm milk to the potatoes and mix (be careful with this, and maybe add a little less at first then increase. My mixture ended up being a little loose and I think if I had added just a little less milk it would have been easier to work with. That said, my end croquettes were perfect, so….)
Mash 8-12 cloves of the garlic confit to a paste and add to the potatoes.
Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of the oil that was with the garlic and the lemon zest and mix with the potato until smooth.
Check to see if the cod is cool enough to handle and then break it up with your fingers and add it to the potato and mix. Now you can season with salt and garlic to taste. I tossed in some dried thyme at this point also.
Line a sheet pan with parchment and roll the mixture into golf ball size pieces. I did one pan (the mixture was loose and hard to work with) then put it in the refrigerator with the remainder of the mixture still in the bowl. I figured it could set up while I was gone, and it did. I think I would recommend refrigerating for an hour or so before making the balls. When I returned, the balls on the pan were firmer and the mixture in the bowl was easier to work with.
I heated my oil in a fry pan (or sautuese) until I could see a shimmer, then added my first croquette. I cooked 5 at a time, waiting until they were a deep golden brown, before removing them to a paper towel lined plate to drain. They came out crunchy and delicious on the outside and soft and creamy inside. Really delicious. We thought we would need a sauce with them, but didn’t. They were perfect with the wine.
You can reheat them, if needed in the oven. This recipe made about 2 1/2 dozen croquettes.
On the third Saturday of each month, The French #Winophiles convene and share posts about a particular grape or region. On April 21st we are focusing on the Picpoul varietal hosted by Camilla of Culinary Adventures. We will be posting a piece about the two picpouls you see in the photo above, a little on the history of picpoul and the pairings.
If you’re reading this soon enough, hop on the Twitter chat on Saturday, April 21st at 8am Pacific time. Search for the hashtag #Winophiles to follow along or peruse the tweets later, and be sure to check out all the articles prepared by some amazing writers on their take on picpoul!