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Bacalao Cassoulet Recipe

Posted by Amie / February 22, 2010

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Montreal Festival en Lumière can be ridiculously expensive. So make your own Portuguese dinner and sit down to gourmet bliss in the comfort of your own home. Sure, you could pick up some chicken and fries at (insert your favourite Montreal rotisserie chicken place here. Touchy subject...) but this dish was shared by Canada and Portugal long before a chicken even thought about walking into a St-Hubert.

Sure, there are cheaper, or free, options at the Highlights Festival, like the Crossroads of Flavour, but the festival is all about upscale dinners with guest Portuguese chefs, Portuguese wines, and Quebec restaurants. So it's tough to know where to spend your money if you think these things are amazing. Really it's unfair. It's like a birthday where you misbehaved so you're not allowed to open your presents, and they just sit there, all wrapped up, in front of you. Taunting you. Except in this analogy you never get the presents. Your parents are apparently very mean...and decided to give your presents to your snotty cousin Marvin. You hate Marvin.

So, present-less (or dinner reservation-less), your only option is recreate a gourmet Portuguese meal for yourself.

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1 lb boneless, skinless salt cod fillets (Bacalao in Portuguese. You can get it with skin and bones but it's a real nuisance trying to get them out of the cod after soaking it, so I thought it was better for my sanity to spend a few extra dollars for the pre-skinned and de-boned salt cod at Poissonerie Atwater. Any fish place will have the cod, though, as will Portuguese, South and Central American grocery stores.

2 cups dried black eyed peas, cooked and drained, or use two 540mL cans of black eyed peas or navy beans, drained and rinsed. Oh, the festival is also featuring Cajun cooking, and though I'm almost two months late for New Years, I'll consider these a Louisiana specialty. Just pretend Chinese New Year, which was last Sunday, is North American New Year and it makes it a bit more legit.

2 tsp olive oil or butter
2 onions, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 sprig of fresh rosemary, or 2 tsp dried
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1 bay leaf
1 cup whipping cream (or 2% milk, almond breeze, coconut cream, or your favourite milk substitute). Obviously the milk won't make the cassoulet as thick or creamy as the whipping cream, and the coconut cream will turn this into a Caribbean-flavoured dish, but any will work just fine)

So my reference to Canada and Portugal sharing this dish dates way back to the days of John Cabot as seen in the Canadian Heritage Moment where the fishermen lean over the side of their boat off the coast of Newfoundland and scoop up baskets full of cod (1497-ish). Back in the day the Portuguese and British were fishing those waters, as well as whoever else could get a boat over there. The cod got salted to preserve it for the long trip home. As much as it kills me to think that the cod I bought for this recipe may have been caught just outside Canadian waters, off the shore of Newfoundland, continuing to destroy the substantially-diminished Atlantic cod population (Giovanni, aka John, would not be having any luck with the baskets these days), it's hard to know exactly where it came from, and it certainly won't be a regular occurrence. Like most fish, buy it in moderation, especially if it's relatively affordable. There's usually a reason it's less expensive...I'm talking about you Atlantic Sole and Provigo Tilapia.

Salt Cod, takes a bit of planning ahead to soak, but there's no worrying about cooking the fish for exactly the right amount of time, like for fresh fish fillets. The really nice thing is that the whole dish will be very flavourful from all the salt, even after rinsing it as many times as you can remember to rinse it in a 24 hour period.

1. Rinse the cod under cold water, cut it into deck of card-size pieces and stick it in a large bowl full of cold water. Then put it in the fridge for at least one day, dumping the water and re-filling the bowl at least 3 times. The more you do it, the less salty the fish will be, but don't go crazy about it. Sometimes it's nice outside.

2. If you're using dried black eyed peas, soak them overnight in a bowl or pot with 6 cups of water. Drain them, and then pour them into a large pot with 8 cups of water. Bring them to a boil, skim off any scum that collects on the surface, and reduce the heat to simmer until the beans are not quite tender, but not yet mushy, about 50 minutes.

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2. Heat the oil or butter over medium heat in another large pot. When the oil is hot add the onions, carrots and celery. Cook for about 8 minutes, then add the garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper and stir for 1 minute. Add the wine and stir for 30 seconds, or until the liquid has almost evaporated. Then add the black eyed peas (or the 2 large cans of your beans of choice), the stock, and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 20 minutes, or until your biggest pieces of carrots and celery are tender.
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3. By now your cod is relatively salt-free, so get it out of the fridge, drain it, and in yet another large pot bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the bay leaf. Now you have a choice, but you need to follow the instructions meticulously, right up to the end of this paragraph. No skipping the last sentence. Either add the lemon juice and the bay leaf now or don't add it and serve lemon slices on the side of the dish. If you skip the lemon juice your whole home will smell like fish for much too long a period of time, but depending on how much you don't like the people you live with, that might be just fine. You won't smell it as much yourself since you've been in the kitchen with it for awhile. Don't say I told you to do this. I like my roommate.

4. Add the cod to the boiling lemon-optional water and cook, uncovered, just until the water starts to boil again. Then cover it and remove it from the heat. Let it sit for 15 minutes, then remove it from the large pot (finally, one LESS large pot) and flake it into small pieces with a fork. Remove the skin and bones if you saved a bit of extra money and knew you'd have your de-boning work cut out for you.

(If your vegetables are done before your cod is flaked, just turn off the heat on the vegetables and wait for the cod)

5. Add the flaked cod and the cream or milk to the vegetables and bring the pot back to a simmer, then reduce the heat just a little bit to medium-low so the milk doesn't boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the cassoulet is a stew consistency you can live with. Stir every few minutes to make sure the milk doesn't form a skin on the surface.

6. To make it really authentic and to feel like a great Portuguese chef, drizzle each bowl of cassoulet with olive oil. Don't tell anyone if the oil is Italian, not Portuguese. In honour of a great indie songstress, lie if you need to. Like with International Water boundaries, you can probably get away with more than you think...

7. Eat with bread, maybe some kale (a less contentious Canadian and Portuguese shared specialty), maybe some Portuguese wine, and thank goodness you just saved at least $60 by not going to a Montreal Highlights Festival Restaurant.

For everyone who made it to the end,

1 cup flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce (don't worry, the brownies won't taste like apple)
4 oz. (about 4 squares) bittersweet chocolate
1 tsp vanilla
optional 1 tsp of instant espresso or coffee powder dissolved in 1 tsp hot water

Rich Fudge Icing
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup cocoa
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar
6 tsp milk or milk substitute (soy, almond)
1/2 tsp vanilla

OR A BETTER OPTION (just try it)

Broiled Coconut Frosting
6 tbsp melted butter
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 2 tbsp milk
1 c. shredded coconut
1/2 tsp. vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

2. Sift flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt

3. Melt the chocolate carefully in the microwave or double boiler

4. In (oh dear, maybe don't make these the same day as the Bacalao...) a large bowl beat together the butter and sugar until the butter is pale (about 2 minutes). Beat in the egg whites, applesauce, melted chocolate, vanilla and optional espresso

5. Stir flour mixture into melted chocolate mixture just until combined.

6. Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with butter, or parchment paper. Pour in the batter, and bake for 35-40 minutes, or until firm. This depends on your preferred level of gooey-ness, so sticking in a toothpick and waiting for it to come out without crumbs might make the brownies too dry.

7. Make the icing by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the cocoa powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until it just starts to boil. Remove from the heat and pour into a large, non-plastic bowl to cool for a few minutes. Then beat in 1/3rd of the powdered sugar, followed by 2 tsp of the milk. Then half the remaining sugar, 2 more tsp of milk, the rest of the sugar, and the rest of the milk. Finally, add the vanilla. Wait until the brownies cool before spreading the icing on top. The icing will set if you put it in the fridge to wait, but keep the fresh brownies out of the fridge as long as possible so they don't dry out (they can hang out on the counter for at least a few days, but egg whites are finicky and need to get refrigerated to keep longer.


7. Preheat your oven's broiler. Combine all the coconut frosting ingredients in a bowl and spread over the brownies while they're still in the pan. Broil until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Watch them carefully!!! Burnt coconut is a lot less amazing than broiled coconut. These will be the most moist brownies you've ever had because the butter and coconut oil will sink down into the brownie to make it so, so creamy. You can stick these in the fridge and there's still no way they'll be dry.



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