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The Handoff: Salt Cod Cakes

2011 October 13

By Taylor Cocalis

Potatoes in a potGreensboro, VT – As I mentioned on Tuesday, I was inspired by Jessie’s Daikon Radish Cakes to make some savory salt cod cakes of my own. I adapted this recipe from Mark Bittman’s book How to Cook Everything, my go-to resource for finding a recipe for anything I happen to be craving on any given night. I love Bittman all the time . . . in his books, in his Minimalist webisodes, in his new NY Times Opinionator column. I love that he’s never had formal training, his recipes are simple, and his food is not fancy. And I absolutely adore this blurb he has in the Spain cookbook he did with Batali and Paltrow. In it he says there are essentially four stages of a cook:

  • Stage 1 – You seek out recipes for inspiration and go out and buy ingredients to make said recipe according to the directions.
  • Stage 2 – You seek out recipes, pick one out, follow it, but tweak it a bit.
  • Stage 3 – You look to recipes occasionally for inspiration and general techniques, but then ditch the recipe to make the dish as you wish.
  • And, last, but not least, Stage 4 – You open your refrigerator/cupboards/walk out to your garden and can make anything from what you have available, sans any formal recipe whatsoever.

This is so important. In our culture, there is a prevailing idea that anything you make needs to look like it came out of a restaurant kitchen. Guess what . . .it doesn’t. And it shouldn’t. If everyone simply started somewhere . . . anywhere . . . and started to rack up hours in the kitchen they would be a stage 4 before they knew it. It’s generally accepted that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. Imagine if everyone got exposed to 10,000 hours of cooking before they were 18. If we all had the time, energy, and insight to feed ourselves and each other every day? Imagine how much more confidence people would have in their own ability to nourish themselves? It would be grand.

CLICK HERE for the full post and recipe.

The cruel joke is that – like anything – the hardest part is simply starting. In the beginning, you DO need a lot of time and energy (and money to invest in stocking your pantry and having a few staple pieces of nice equipment). But once you know the game it’s a lot easier to play it.

I love this particular recipe because it’s forgiving. You can deliberately make all of the components from scratch, or you can use this recipe when you happen to have a bunch of leftover mashed potatoes, or some stale bread. The cod cake mixture keeps pretty well in the refrigerator for a few days, so if you know you won’t want to cook all weekend, fry some up for dinner on Friday, eat with eggs on Saturday, throw some already formed/dredged cakes in the freezer for a rainy day.

Salt Cod Cakes

Prep Time: 1 hour + 24 hours to soak the cod.

Cooking Time: 30 minutes for cod cakes

Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Yield: 8 large salt cod cakes or 16 small ones


For the cod cakes

  • 1 lb dried salt cod. You can substitute any old fresh white fish if you’d like, and skip the soaking below. I just happen to like salt cod because – A) we rarely get any good fresh fish up here in VT, and B) it keeps forever. Literally. Okay almost literally.
  • 3 cups mashed potatoes (see recipe below).
  • 3 local eggs. We get ours from the lovely folks at Scholten Family Farms, but any egg that is fresh with a bright orange, plump yolk will do.
  • 1 grated yellow onion. We procured ours from Pete’s Greens.
  • a few Tablespoons bread crumbs and flour. Yes, we often make our own bread and none of it goes to waste. What doesn’t make it into crostini, bread pudding, panzanella, ribollita, or stuffing turns into bread crumbs.
  • Olive oil and/or bacon drippings and/or butter whatever you have on hand, or a mixture of them all.

For the mashed potatoes

  • 3 lbs or so of potatoes. Kinda small ones are better than huge. I like Yukon Golds or something similar with a thin-ish skin because I never skin them. Why waste all of that flavor? And all of those nutrients? And waste your time peeling? Just seems silly. Just be sure to wash ‘em good.
  • 6 Tablespoons or so of good butter. I vote Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery cultured butter or something of similar quality from your area.
  • 1 cup heavy cream or rich whole milk. I used Butterworks, which is about as close as you can get to butter without it actually just being butter.
  • Salt (I happened to have some relatively local Maine sea salt).
  • Pepper

Cooking Directions

One day ahead

  • Soak that salt cod. Place in a dish and cover with cold water. Let soak for 18 – 24 hours, changing the water at least 4 times.

One hour ahead

  • Make mashed potatoes. Throw potatoes in a pot and cover with salted water. Boil for 30 – 40 mins. drain. Whack ‘em up with a fork. Return to low heat and adds knobs of butter and cream/milk. Mix with wooden spoon. Can still be pretty chunky.

Making the cod cakes

  1. Simmer cod on stove for 15 mins.
  2. Flake fish into a bowl, taking care to remove any stray bones.
  3. Add potatoes, onion, eggs, salt and pepper. Mash up until blended.
  4. Add just enough breadcrumbs to make it manageable (usually 2 – 3 Tablespoons).
  5. Form into cakes (can be as large or small as you’d like).
  6. Dredge in mixture of half flour/half bread crumbs.
  7. Heat a few Tablespoons fat (olive oil, bacon drippings, butter, etc) over medium heat. When sizzling a bit, fry cakes in hot fat. Flip when golden brown on bottom (usually 3 – 5 minutes). Cook second side same as first.
  8. Serve warm, cool, or cold – with fresh lemon wedges and/or mayo with capers and hot sauce.

Salt Cod cakeTaylor Cocalis is a Co-Founder of Good Food Jobs, a gastro-job search website, designed to link people looking for meaningful food work with the businesses that need their energy, enthusiasm, and intellect.