A sense memory: Portuguese Cod Soup
I really enjoy reading other peoples blogs. Last week I came across this post which reminded of the soups my aunts would make when I was boy. They were immigrants from the Azores and we all lived in a little community in Artesia. The ingredients depended on what grew in the garden, how much money was left after expenses, and how many people were staying. So salted cod was on my mind.
Yesterday I walked by the Korean section of the market — packaged dried cod.
My morning ritual is to look in the fridge to see what I need to use. The cod was hydrated… On the way to work, in my minds eye, I pieced together what I remembered of cod soup.
At home, I had half an onion in a ziplock bag, potatoes, canned tomatoes, eggs. I sliced the onion, crushed two cloves of garlic and sweat them in a drizzle of olive oil in a Dutch oven. I added 1/2 a can of crushed tomatoes. To develop flavour I reduced the tomato until it started to stick to the pan and the mass glistened with oil. To melt the flavours seared onto the enamel into the soup I poured a jigger or two of white wine and stired hard.
For seasoning my aunts used what was at hand: bay leaves, whole allspice and black pepper pods. I was out of allspice, so I substituted grains of paradise.
I added water, layered the fish over whole potatoes — I left the skins on for that little bit of extra flavour and bite. No hard boiled eggs! I put two eggs in their shell into the pot, covered with water and simmered on low for half an hour.
I tasted. Not flavourful enough, but the fish didn’t dominant. I added the rest of the tomatoes, salt, two springs of fresh thyme and just a pinch of saffron
I bit into the fish first. The flavour transported my mind from my little kitchen in Japan into the eyes of that little boy looking up at apron strings and weathered hands. Moments like these are one of the pleasures of cooking.
Portuguese Cod Soup
Tier one — you must use
- Dried cod hydrated overnight (if you’re using salted dried cod, you’ll need to change the water several times)
- Potatoes (my aunts always peeled, but our generation has new traditions and ideas)
- white wine (to your taste)
- olive oil (to your taste)
- 1 can of tomatoes
- 1 onion
- 1 – 3 cloves of crushed garlic (they provide a burst of flavour if ladled in your bowl)
- 1 Bay leaf
- 5 – 10 whole allspice and black pepper pods
Tier two — suggested
- Parsley stems, thyme, marjoram (optional) to taste.
- A leaf of kale
Tier three — optional
- a pinch of saffron
- cabbage (to stretch the soup and for flavour)
- a slice of rustic bread (to float on top when serving)
- olives and capers to your liking (a flavor option)
Method: Drizzle olive oil in the pan, add onion and garlic and sweat for five minutes — do not brown. Add tomatoes and cook until they stick to the bottom of the pan and the oil comes out (they glisten). Degrease with white wine and stir vigerously to loosen the caramelised bits and evaporate the wine. Add a little water to stop the cooking so you can layer potatoes, slices of hard boiled egg, olives, capers, fish. Add enough water to cover the fish. Put your spices in, bring to a boil, turn down the heat to low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes and taste. Adjust the seasonings.
Note: If you use the kale or cabbage, add it the last 10 minutes of cooking.