Or, Nimes Brandade de Morue to be precise! This translates to salted cod, prepared in the manner of a Brandade, and specialty of the Nimes region of France.
Those of you that have travelled around Mediterranean will most likely be familiar with the idea of Bacalhau, Bacalao, Baccalá… Greece, Spain, Italy, they all have their own name for it, but it all amounts to the same thing: dried and salted cod.
So, how does a dish with a main ingredient of dried and salted cod become a speciality of an inland town in the southern reaches of France? Well, good question! As with all good stories, there is some conjecture as to how salt cod came to Nimes (and indeed the actual recipe that resulted), but from all my reading, this seemed the most reasonable answer to me… Cod is traditionally fished from the North Sea and its presence, dried and salted, in Nimes appears to be simply commercial. In the 18th century Basque fisherman would travel to the North Sea on fishing expeditions that lasted several days and they needed a way of preserving their catch. Luckily for them, one of the best sources of salt were the salt mines or ‘salines’ on the Provencal coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and Nimes was very conveniently located on the trade route known as the ‘Old Salt Road’. The salted cod simply became a commodity that was easily bartered in return for the salt needed for preservation of future catches and for any other of life’s necessities.
And so, salt cod became a culinary staple of Nimes and the surrounding areas. Quickly adopted by Nimes housewives, the Brandade was born. Coming from the Provencal word ‘brandado’ meaning ‘things stirred’, this dish is indeed stirred, and stirred a lot! Reportedly born in 1756 when a clever cook decided to mash the flesh of salted cod with garlic, potatoes, olive oil and cream (of course!), the Brandade reached the height of popularity in the 1830s due to the efforts of the famous French chef Charles Durand. At its heart it is a simple dish, but one that takes time as it requires the soaking of the salt cod to soften and desalinate, before mixing it with the other ingredients and baking in the oven.
So, I tracked down some salt cod today in the Greek deli at the Queen Victoria Market. It is currently soaking away so that I can whip up this dish for you tomorrow (it needs 24 hours soaking toget rid of all that salt). So no dish tonight, but stay tuned for tomorrow when I take on the cod!