Things I Do When Fish Don’t Bite: Part IV

Cook What You Hook: Striped Bass Brandade

PIPING HOT: Fred’s Striped Bass Brandade

I was introduced to brandade de morue salée, a baked puree of salt cod, olive oil and potato, in France more than a decade ago. My Parisian friend Angus makes this rustic specialty of the Languedoc and Provence regions in the most traditional way–always by hand. 

Roughly translated, brandade means mixture. And if you adhere to the the classic 19th century recipe as described in The Epicurean, by Charles Ranhofer, you’ll be mixing and soaking and mixing and soaking, for hours, if not days. 

Soak salt codfish for fourteen hours, changing the water several times, put it on to cook in cold water, set it on one side at the first boil and let it bubble for twenty-five minutes, then shred half a pound of this fish. Fry in oil two tablespoonfuls of chopped onion and one clove of garlic, let attain a good golden color, then put in the codfish to warm; pound and convert it into a paste, working it well with a whip, and then incorporate into it slowly one pint of oil, a little well thickened bechamel, some double raw cream, pepper, nutmeg, salt if found necessary, and chopped parsley; dress it pyramid form and garnish around with oyster pattiesoysters a la villeroi and trussed crawfish. 

19TH CENTURY CUISINE: Fishtales–and more–from The Epicurean

I don’t mess around much with salt cod—baccala in my people’s speak—other than on Christmas Eve.  But while noodling for something to do with all the good “meat” left on the carcass of a freshly caught and filleted keeper bass, I experimented with a striped bass adaptation of brandade. 

Of course, I simplify, simplify, simplify. Instead of the dried cod, I use the poached morsels gleaned from the striper carcass which I cooked down for fish stock. Between the head, tail and belly that remains on a properly filleted 10 pound striper, there’s at least 4 cups of tasty fish that can be shredded for this or many other chowders and stews. Be sure, however, that the fishy pieces you harvest from the carcass are picked clean of any scales or bones, etc. I was never in the habit of scaling my fish before filleting, since I typically removed the skin.  I learned the hard way what a mistake that was when I strained the stock and was left with a mess of unusable, scaly fish parts. Disaster. 

With the striper morsels still warm, I mix in, a little by little as needed, one medium potato (cooked either in milk or fish broth), warm olive oil infused from a few cloves of smashed garlic, and the starchy liquid from the cooked potato. Working with a large serving fork, I aim for a consistency as smooth as possible, which depends upon how hard you work. You could use a food processor, but if you tell Angus I recommended it, I will deny it. To him, that’s cheating. You probably don’t know Angus so, hey, do what you’ve got to do. 

The first time I made this dish, it was a few days after I prepared the stock. A eureka moment came later in my brandade experience when I mixed the dish up while the fish was still warm from the stock pot. Much better blending.

Taste as you go. Add chopped parsley, salt, white pepper and a slight dash of nutmeg toward the end. Then, turn it all into a baking dish and drizzle the top with the remaining olive oil. At this point, wrapped tightly, the dish keeps in the fridge for a day or two or three. It freezes well too. The final step is to bake it until hot through and through. Serve with garlic bread or toasted pitas. 

The true Provencales finish brandade with a velvety white sauce. You may choose to go with home made aioli or a lemony mayonnaise. Or simply drizzle it with another healthy dose of olive oil.  Over the years, I’ve further embellished my basic brandade by topping it with panko before baking, or turning the mixture in seasoned breadcrumbs for bite-size, brandade croquettes. Do your own experimenting. Just don’t let Angus catch you.

STRIPED BASS BRANDADE EAST END STYLE: On a bed of roasted cabbage leaves

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