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May 11, 2010

Kosher salt (Recipe: salt cod balls with chipotle mayonnaise dip)

Bolinhos 

I don't know a single American or European chef or home cook who wouldn't put salt and pepper at the very top of the list of seasonings without which they simply could not cook.

So, you can imagine my surprise when the Brazilian cooks I met on our travels last year did not use black pepper.

Salt, yes. Pepper, no, never.

A couple of weeks ago, I taught my first class on Brazilian cooking, featuring some of my friend Peter's recipes (moqueca, pão de queijo) that use typically South American ingredients from my pantry. Often, like Peter (an American-born chef), I couldn't help but toss in a bit of black pepper automatically, a reflex action.

Salt, on the other hand, goes into everything, no matter who's cooking.

In my kitchen, that means kosher salt, my everyday, go-to, can't-cook-without-it, nothing-fancy, cheap-in-the-supermarket salt.

What is kosher salt?
A coarse-grained, additive-free salt named for its use in the production of kosher meats. I recommend Diamond Crystal brand.

How/where to store:
In a glass jar in a cool, dry place. Moisture is the enemy; if the salt stays dry, it will last indefinitely.

More facts about kosher salt, and ingredient photos, on The Perfect Pantry:
Kosher salt (Recipe: Moroccan eggplant salad)

Bolinhos

Bolinhos de bacalhau (salt cod balls) with chipotle dipping sauce

This is bar food of the very best kind! Bolinhos (pronounced bo LEAN yohs) can be made with cheese, chicken or meat, but salt cod is the most traditional and popular. We love this dipping sauce, which is definitely not traditional, but you can substitute salsa, if you prefer. This recipe, adapted from Brazil: A Cook’s Tour, by Christopher Idone, takes a bit of planning ahead, as the salt cod needs to be soaked for 48 hours, but it is absolutely worth it. Makes approximately 24 bolinhos, serving 6 people; can be doubled if you’re making them for a big party.

Ingredients

1 lb salt cod
2 medium baking (Idaho) potatoes, peeled and cut into 4-6 chunks each
1 Tbsp minced onion
2 Tbsp minced flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
Lots of fresh black pepper
2 large eggs, separated
1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1 cup plain dry bread crumbs
Vegetable or canola oil, for frying

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, minced, or 2-3 Tbsp of the adobo sauce

Directions

*Soak the salt cod in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator for 48 hours, changing the water 5 or 6 times.

Drain the salt cod. Place in a small pot of cold water with 1 Tbsp white cider vinegar or rice vinegar. Bring to a low boil and cook for 15 minutes. Drain, and set aside until cool enough to handle. Then, pick the skin and bones from the fish, and add the fish to a large mixing bowl.

Bring a small pot of water to boil; add the potatoes and cook until tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain and cool slightly, then add to the mixing bowl along with onion, parsley, garlic, egg yolks, pepper, and flour. Mash all together with a masher or wooden spoon, and mix to combine.

In another large bowl, beat the egg whites with a whisk until stiff peaks are formed. Gently fold the egg whites into the cod mixture; try not to deflate the egg whites. Season with salt.

Place the bread crumbs in a bowl. Form the salt cod mixture into balls the size of a walnut, and gently coat with the bread crumbs. Place on a platter, and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour or more, until ready to cook. Don't skip this step; the bolinhos are delicate and need time to set, or they'll fall apart in the frying.

Make the dipping sauce by mixing together mayonnaise and adobo sauce (or minced chipotles) until you like the taste, mild or spicy. Place in a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate, for at least 1 hour or more (can be made a day or two ahead of time).

When you’re ready to cook, fill a very deep, heavy saucepan with 1-1/2 inches of oil. (At the same time, remove the bolinhos from the refrigerator.)

Set the heat under the pan to high, and heat the oil until it reaches 350F or until it shimmers. One good way to test the oil is to stand a bamboo chopstick vertically with the eating tip down in the oil; if small bubbles appear at the base, the oil is hot enough.

Carefully fry the balls a few at a time, turning them a bit to make sure they brown all over, for 4-5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider, onto a plate covered with paper towels. If desired, sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Salt cod and potato cannelloni Alfredo
Cod with raisins, nuts and apples
Roasted asparagus with manchego cheese
Half-sour dill pickles
Tunisian fish ball tagine

Other recipes that use kosher salt:
Salt-crusted baby potatoes, from 101 Cookbooks
Eggplant parmesan, from Simply Recipes
Brown butter green beans with almonds, from Andrea Meyers
Pickled garlic scapes, from Not Without Salt
Montreal steak seasoning rub, from Kalyn's Kitchen

Comments

I too rarely use black pepper and I never understood why it has to be used in everything! I use it when I want to feel the the taste of it and then I use a lot.
I think this is the recipe I asked you for ages ago, isn't it? Is the cod that you soaked completely dry or half soaked when you buy it?

to be totally honest, I barely use black pepper too. I just dont think it has much to offer, and I usually use cumin, smoked paprika, dried oregano....you get the idea. I use flavors while I view black pepper as bland, except on eggs. Gotta have S&P on my eggs!

Ilva, the cod is completely dry and often comes in a little wooden box. You can also buy it in plastic bags, especially in Portuguese markets here, and it's best to buy that way so you can see the quality of the fish.

Erin, I can't cook without black pepper! I love the bite. And yes, it's a must on eggs.

It really has to be Diamond Kosher salt... I've seen some brands where the granules are just to big!

And to Erin's point -- in Morocco, they put salt, pepper and *cumin* on the table as standard seasoning.

Would it be possible to bake these, rather than frying?

My reflex is to always add a grind of black pepper...unless I've added another type of pepper like red chile flakes or chipolte powder.

Love those cod fish balls -- and that dressed-up mayo.

I haven't seen too many recipes for salt cod -- Kurlansky's book "Cod" tells the fascinating history of that product, now much more rare thanks to its own popularity. Cod is almost extinct -- the once-vast fisheries almost gone.

Cod fish balls remind me of boarding school, where they were a "treat". I'll have to try these. I bet they taste a lot better than what was served. Can't wait.

Lydia, we just joined a seafood CSA here in Boston (fishermen out of Gloucester) so once a week we get a couple of pounds of fish fillets. Cod seems to be what we'll see a lot of. Do you know of an easy way to make your own salt cod? Last week I made a yummy baked cod casserole with lots of onions and topped with a homemade bread crumb mixture with melted cheese. Would love to try these salt cod balls!

So interesting, I've never seen salt cod for sale here. The fish balls look delicious. I could never cook without salt or pepper; I am a heavy user of both.

I didn't know you teach Brazilian cooking. Do you find that there is a lot of people interested in it? It's nice to see Brazilian food getting more attention though.

Very cool that you taught the Brazilian cooking class. Yes, interestingly enough not everyone uses black pepper...

Paz

a brazilian cooking class? how wild and fun. i need to come see you, finally.
you have no idea how good these fried little delights look right now...

salt would be first on my "if I was stuck on a desert island" list!!!

I'm a sea salt kinda guy but Kosher would certainly be preferred to table salt.

This Chipotle dipping sauce sounds wonderful with your fritters.

Julia, I agree about the salt, and there's a good reason. The Diamond Crystal actually has a different structure than Morton's Kosher Salt.

Kathryn, I honestly don't know. Frying gives them a crust that's important to hold in the soft filling. They cook very quickly and don't absorb much oil at all. Baking might overcook the filling. If you don't want to fry, I'd probably suggest not making this recipe.

Joan, a bit of hot pepper would be nice in these!

Mae, salt cod is very popular in the Portuguese communities around here.

Pauline, if these aren't better than boarding school food, I'll be very sad!

Janice, you could definitely make these with your fresh cod. And what fun, to have a seafood CSA!

Kalyn, I couldn't cook without salt and pepper, either. In fact, I think I reach for the pepper even more than salt. I don't like salty food, so it's ironic that this salt cod dish actually needs added salt.

Rita, Paz, Vanillasugar: This class was my first Brazilian cooking class. It was great fun and featured recipes I had on our travels.

Carol, I'd probably say the same. Salt improves the taste of almost everything.

Peter, I do love sea salt, too, but I use it as finishing salt more than in cooking. And the chipotle dip is great; I use it for roast potatoes, grilled chicken, and portobello mushroom burgers, too.

I rarely use black pepper, I just don't like it. My mom loves it and uses tonnes of it on everything. Until she moved in with us last year, I'd had the same jar of black pepper powder for over eight years. [Yes, I use the powdered "dirt", freshly-ground pepper is even worse to me -- the easiest way to spoil a meal for me is to bite down on a piece of black pepper.]

Now kosher salt, I love! I put that on everything! I keep a covered glass dish of it on the kitchen table, available to sprinkle on whatever I make. I use Diamond Crystal, but I also have a box of Morton's as backup if I run out unexpectedly.

I recently made up a mixture of 2 parts kosher salt and 1 part freshly ground pepper (a mixture of black, red and green peppercorns). I keep this in a cheese shaker next to my stove. The shaker is designed for Parmesan cheese and has bigger holes on top than a normal salt/pepper shaker. I love having this nearby - so handy. I have to refill it about once a week.

Panya, I can't imagine not using black pepper. And kosher salt, too. I reach for both all the time.

Donna, great idea to put your s&p in a cheese shaker!

The supermarket I normally go to must consider kosher salt a specialty seasoning - it costs about 4 times as much as regular salt. I don't know what brand it is though. I'll have to add Diamond brand to my list of "special grocery items" that I have to get at other stores. As far as pepper - it depends on what I'm making. But I do prefer freshly ground pepper, the flavor is so much better, but I do understand about the unexpected large pieces.

Does anyone have a grinder recommendation? Mine doesn't seem to be grinding finely anymore, and it wasn't a cheap one either, @#$% it!

First I would like to congratulate you for the high quality of his writings and recipes. And I would like to inform you that in Brazil we use pepper of course! Some people do not like and do not use. But in general both at home and in restaurants, most uses!

Bolinhos de Bacalhau are not a Brazillian recipe, but, a Portuguese one. And in no way you use pepper on those, at least, with the traditional reciepe, neither any kind of dip. If you want them to be strong flavoured, you should use LOTS of parsley instead, and they are awesome as a protein, with cowpeas salad siding!

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