Archive for June, 2015

A modern way with Salt Cod

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015



Asgeir Benediktsson was born and raised in Iceland. In his yellow clapboard Rockport home, speaking English framed in a sturdy Icelandic accent, he says “in Iceland there are two meals a day: one is fish and one is lamb. As children we may have complained about having fish once again, but our plates were always clean.”

At twelve years old Benediktsson, now 54, learned from his father to cold-smoke haddock and salmon. Soon father and son were smoking 500 to 1,000 kilos of haddock at a time. Cold-smoked haddock, warmed and served with mashed potatoes and butter, is as classic a child’s meal in Iceland as America’s hotdogs and beans. Benediktsson attended a four year college for fish processing, a degree that must certainly be unique to Iceland, such a fish-forward country. There he learned every method of safely extending a haddock’s shelf-life, from canning to making stockfisk.

Afterward, Benediktsson went on to have career in fish processing that mimicked the world migration of a school of tuna. In South Africa Benediktsson created a fish processing plant with 500 employees on the floor. Working in Portugal he saw the old method of salting and hanging cod, with strings hung over the racks to deter seagulls, still practiced.

A world traveling fish-lover, Benediktsson says, “everywhere I go, I go to the fishmarket.”

But it was those early years smoking haddock with his father, burning oak and lumber from a neighboring shipyard, that facilitated a move to the U.S. Two years ago, following a long held interest of living in this country, Benediktsson accepted a job as Head of Fish Smoking at Whole Foods.

As mentioned, Benediktsson calls Rockport home now, with his wife, Sigrun, and teenage daughter, Gudrun. (The Benediktsson have left three grown children and a flock of grandchildren behind in Iceland.) He has since left Whole Foods to work for the Gloucester fish processor, Mazzetta Company, LLC

I first met the Benediktsson and his wife when we were all inducted as new members into Spiran Lodge, the Scandinavian Society of Rockport. Over one of the diverse Spiran Lodge potluck suppers, Benediktsson and I learned we share a passion for salted cod, his life-long, mine nascent. In the process of writing my book, “In Cod We Trust, From Sea to Shore, the Celebrated Cuisine of Coastal Massachusetts,” (Globe Pequot Press), I learned not to not just appreciate salt cod’s singular texture and taste, but to be a cheerleader for it.

As Benediktsson says, “salted cod has more flakes; it has more flavor.” Again, with that definitive stamp of a language that sounds like king’s English pooled with Norwegian, Benediktsson says, “I prefer cod salted.”

He is not alone. The French and Spanish have no word in their language for fresh cod because they only eat their Gadus morhua salted. La morue in French, bacalao in Spanish, salt cod is revered in these countries; these countries consider the fresh version of cod insipid. Most Americans have little residual affection for salt cod, upon which fortunes were made in the not so distant past, and few even remember it, but Portuguese communities in New Bedford, and some Italians still adore it.

“In Cod We Trust” has a number of recipes for salt cod: a baked version slathered in a spicy Portuguese tomato sauce, a fritter with mint and parsley that makes a delicious cocktail bite, a Finnish recipe baked with potatoes and salt pork which results in a broth more fragrant than the best chowder, and a fluffy fish cake from Louise Kenyon, once a Folly Cove designer. Kenyon describes her fish cake as “very superior fish cakes.”

I confess that working with salt cod is initially tricky. It’s important to find high quality pieces, which means a thick chunk far from the tail. You should be able to see your salt cod; don’t buy it in the wooden box, no matter how cute you think it is. (I find that brand the worst.) Salt cod should not really have a smell, except of salt. It requires soaking for at least 24 hours, changing the water many times, and then I simmer it in milk for another ten minutes just to make sure it is tender. But the results are truly something worth trying. The preservation changes the molecular structure of the fish, resulting in something firm and distinctive, the way prosciutto is different than ham.

And yet, if that process seems daunting, Asgeir Benediktsson has taught me a simpler way to achieve these singular salted cod qualities. Benediktsson brines a piece of cod for 24 hours, rinses it, and it’s ready to cook. “This way fits much better into the modern world,” Benediktsson says. I have prepared cod this way a couple of times, and the results are wonderful. The fish adopts just enough of the salted cod character – the flakes becoming thicker and more defined, the flavor becomes slightly sweeter – without the erratic toughness that the old world salted cod sometimes produces.

Along with this brining technique, Benediktsson also provided me with two wonderful recipes for cooking the cod. Both are brilliant. The first results in what I call an “instant, machine-less sous-vide,” the modern method of cooking very slowly at low temperatures, retaining more flavor than food prepared at higher temperatures, and resulting in a velvety texture.

In this case, the salted cod is removed from the brine and rinsed. A pot of water is brought to a boil. At the boil, the heat is turned off, and the fish is put in, covered, for exactly 7 minutes. I have not had such a perfectly cooked piece of fish in years. I served this cod with a simple homemade aioli and steamed potatoes, Icelandic style. The flavors made a delicate little bagatelle of a meal, a perfect dinner. (The photo here shows halibut prepared this way. As it was a thicker than a cod loin, I left it in the water for a total of 12 minutes. Use your judgement for thicker, denser fish, but I find this worked beautifully.)

Icelandic meal



Benediktsson’s second recipe is more expansive, but equally perfect. The salted cod is removed from the brine, and placed on a baking sheet covered with a pistachio “salsa.” The fish is roasted, and then served over a pile of lime and chili flavored mashed sweet potatoes. This dish’s origins may have been far from Iceland and but the results, I’ll boldly say, are closer to paradise. Again, this wide range of textures and flavors united into a dish not short of a masterpiece. This should be your next “company” dinner.


cod with pistachio salsa and sweet potatoes



The Recipes, serve 4

For the brine:

Ingredients for 4 cod loins, about 2 1/2 pounds –  a 10 ounce loin per person

12 cups water 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon salt


Mix together salt and water to dissolve. Place brine and fish in a securely covered plastic tub, and let sit for 24 hours.

Perfect Fish in 7-Minutes


Brined cod from recipe above.


In a saute pan or skillet large enough to hold the fish, or even a stock pot, bring about 3 inches of water water to a boil. Remove fish from brine and rinse well. When the water boils, turn off the heat, and add the fish. Cover immediately, and let fish sit for exactly 7 minutes. Remove from pan, and serve immediately. This is delicious with aioli, or an herb butter.

Asgeir’s Cod with Sweet Potatoes and Pistachio Salsa


Brined cod from recipe above

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1” chunks

1-2 potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1” chunks (about 1/3 pound)

1 red chili, seeds removed (divided)

3 1/2 tablespoons lime juice, approximately (divided)

1 tablespoon butter, approximately

1/2 cup chopped pistachios

peel from 1 lemon

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup chopped parsley

salt and pepper to taste


1.  To prepare the potatoes, place sweet and white potatoes in a pot of water to cover. Add 1/2 the red chili to the pan, and bring to a boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until potatoes are soft. Remove the chili, and strain the potatoes. Return to the pot, and mash them with 1/2 tablespoon lime and the butter. (I used an emulsion blender for this.) Add salt and pepper to taste. You may need to add more lime and butter, also, at this point. Keep warm and set aside.

2.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Remove the fish from the brine, and rinse it. Pat dry, and lay on a foil lined baking sheet. In a small bowl mix together the pistachios, remaining lime juice, lemon peel, olive oil, parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. Distribute mixture over fish.

ready to bake



3.  Bake for 12-15 minutes or until fish is fully cooked. (Do not overcook, but watch the pistachios carefully. If they look as if they might blacken too soon, cover with aluminum foil) Distribute the warm sweet potatoes among 4 plates. Serve each cod loin on top of the sweet potatoes. Serve immediately.


– first glimpse at my book.

Sunday, June 28th, 2015

My cookbook is promised to be on shelves by mid-July, but thank you Boston Sunday Globe Magazine for featuring “In Cod We Trust, the Celebrated Cuisine of Coastal Massachusetts” in today’s paper.  Here’s the link if you want a preview, and a few favorite recipes:

All photos here by Allan Penn.





Serves 6 as a first course

Bulhao Pato was a 19th-century Lisbon poet, but everyone seems to remember only his clam recipe. If his verse were as simple and succinct as his clams, it, too, might be famous. Clams Bulhao Pato has exactly what is needed to make shellfish wonderful — a little garlic, a little hot chili, a little lemon juice, and cilantro. It is clam poetry.
48 littleneck or mahogany clams (about 5 pounds)

Salt, to taste

4 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons minced garlic

3 or 4 dried hot chilies, crumbled, or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or more, to taste

1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

Scrub the clams under running water, place them in a large bowl of salted water, and set aside for 30 minutes to help eliminate some of the sand. Drain.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the garlic and chilies or red pepper flakes, and cook, stirring, until soft and fragrant, taking care not to burn the garlic. Add clams, cover skillet, adjust heat to medium, and cook, checking the clams occasionally, until they are all open, about 10 minutes (smaller clams take longer to open). Add the lemon juice, replace the cover, and set the skillet off heat for about a minute, shaking a few times to distribute the juices. Divide the clams and liquid among heated serving bowls, sprinkle with cilantro, and serve at once.

Cedar Rock Garden’s Best Kale Recipe

Thursday, June 11th, 2015


cedar and rock


The rocks emerge around and within the stands of cedar trees, their piney breath fragrant on a hot day in May. The pale spring grasses of Walker Creek’s low tide stretch like a bleached wood beyond the forest-green limbs of the cedars. Among all this Elise Jillson and Tucker Smith are growing flowers, a list of eighty-two varieties from alliums to zinnias, annuals and perennials, and a healthy crop of vegetables.  Nettles are flying off the farm right now, destined for ravioli centers at Short & Main, and other local restaurants.  This is Cedar Rock Gardens in W. Gloucester.


CRF greenhouse


Elise, Tucker, Barn

Jillson’s flower-growing inspiration was born from her work with a local landscaper.

“Can we just farm flowers?” she began to ask, and planted a small flower garden of her owm.  With a local florist, Jillson studied making arrangements.  An earlier trip to Guatemala had made Jillson cognizant of local agricultural economies, and suddenly she saw one right here on Cape Ann in locally grown delphinium and sunflowers.


Tucker Smith


Tucker Smith’s family owns this rocky, cedar-generous acreage. Smith had graduated from the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at U Mass. After work in construction and masonry, after apprenticing on farms around the world, Smith landed back in Essex in 2010. For two years he partnered with Noah Kellerman of Alprilla Farm, but Cedar Rock Farm called.

Working at Alprilla, Smith knew his family’s property could be transformed to agriculture from the exotic animal farm it had been when Tucker’s father was alive, but Smith knew he needed to start soon.

“I knew if I didn’t start over here (meaning home) when I was young I never would.”

Clearing a New England field of boulders, barn-building with Kickstarter funds, wrangling family over an enormous oak in the middle of a potentially verdant field (for years planted with strawberries), these are missions for twenty-somethings.  Jillson is 26 and Smith 27.


Family Tree


Jillson’s and Smith’s first flower and young vegetable crops will be available in the Ipswich and Cape Ann farmers’ markets, Wednesday 3:30 – 6:30 and Thursday 3:00 – 6:30 respectively. Their just-cut-yesterday flowers and vegetables, raised using organic practices (although not certified organic) will also be featured in local restaurants.  Mostly, the Cedar Rock people are hoping that weddings and events all over the North Shore this year will feature glorious bouquets of flowers raised on Walker Creek breezes.  Plan your nosegays now.


garlic patch

(Tucker Smith and Noah Kellerman are still good friends, and collaborate on certain projects, but mostly they enjoy meeting in canoes in the middle of Essex Bay, far from each of their fields.)

To get in touch with Cedar Rock Gardens, or to place a flower order:

Elise Jillson:  978-471-9979

Ford Tucker Smith:  978-879-9592

299 Concord St., Gloucester, MA  01930

Jillson promises there will be many bags of curly and lacinato kale for sale at the Cape Ann Farmers’ Market this Thursday. Here’s her current, favorite kale recipe;  I will have a bag of this in my refrigerator at all times, starting tomorrow.

Here is a link on “Well-Being Secrets” on the nutritive benefits of kale:

I start with two bunches of kale (either type but I love the curly kale), chopped up with the stems removed in a 1 gallon ziplock bag. Squeeze a whole lemon into the bag with the kale, mince a few pieces of garlic and throw it in the bag. Then add about 1/8 cup of olive oil – add salt to your liking. Option 1: zip the bag up tight and shake it till everything is coated. Option 2: Stick your hand in there and stir everything around until it is coated. Put it in the fridge and enjoy all week! Each day it is in the fridge it will get more tender if you give it a shake or stir.

Bourbon Barbecue Ribs

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015

platter of ribs


For good reason, some people think the Cambridge grocer Formaggio Kitchen is Fromaggio Kitchen, if only because the cheese case there represents The Louvre of what happens when the world’s sweetest milk meets the world’s funkiest bacteria. Cheese reigns at Formaggio Kitchen. The staff speaks casually of ashen pyramids from obscure Dolomite villages, population 300. I once asked about a rare raw cow’s milk cheese, pressed with ferns, from Romagna.

“You mean Cacio Raviggiolo?” the Formaggio Cheese-ist asked without lifting head from cutting into a wheel of Harbison.

“Unfortunately, they make too little for it to ever cross a border.”

There is much more than cheese inside this small storefront on Huron Ave. (also in Boston’s South End and NYC). Whether it’s coffee or morels, “delicious” at Formaggio Kitchen is consistent, so, naturally, a barbecue package from Formaggio is worth a trial.

Barbecue condiments usually just blur in my eyes, the infinite variety of ketchupy sauces and the little bottles of fire-liquid that come with with chest-pounding challenges of Scoville-scored heat. Whatever.

But a Formaggio product makes me think twice. If anyone in that store knows even half as much about applying indirect heat to meat as they do about Comte, a Formaggio assortment of stuff to use when you’re making barbecue must be pretty good.



Here’s their gutsy barbecue package:

1.  Cool, crisp and spicy McClure’s Pickles

2.  Rancho Gordo Yellow Indian Woman Heirloom dried beans

3.  Rancho Gordo Rio Fuego or Very Hot Sauce

4.  A small tin of Formaggio Dry Rub

5.  Sir Kensington’s Ketchup, a condiment born when Catherine the Great asked the British noble at his gourmet dinner party for some “ketchup” to go with the Wagyu Beef. Kensington went in the kitchen and made up this stuff, as the story goes. (Kensington was already a member of the National Geographic Society and the Guild of Pepperers.)

6.  A pale yellow, crumbly wedge of Cabot Clothbound Cheddar Cheese, Silver Medalist at the 2012 World Cheese Awards. It wouldn’t be a Formaggio package without cheese.

So here’s what happened. I made the Rancho Gordo beans the night before, soaking them, simmering them in sweated vegetables and water for a while, draining them and tossing with roasted poblano peppers, olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon. They were pretty tasty.

Rancho Gordo beans

The Cabot Clothbound turned out to be a faultless bite of sharpness to have with a cold, dry beer while waiting for the ribs to grill.

The Ribs. We have made this recipe before, a recipe basically from the Backyard Barbecue Bible, which we adapted here to include the Formaggio Team: the Formaggio Dry Rub (mystery ingredients, but excellent) coated the ribs, and they marinated in that overnight. The next day the ribs were wrapped in foil and baked slowly at a low temperature for two hours. The meat is just wonderfully tender at that point, and the rub honestly penetrated. Then more rub is added, and the ribs are finished to crispy edges and still tender centers on the grill.

ribs off the grill

Our traditional Bourbon Barbecue Sauce got Formaggio-ed; instead of Heinz here we used the Sir Kensington Ketchup. Instead of Tabasco we used Rancho Gordo Rio Fuego.

We’ve made these ribs before, remember, but never have they had the depth of flavor, heat, and, it’s worth saying again, flavor. These were complicated ribs: sweet without tasting like molasses or corn syrup. Five different notes of heat – as in “do, me, so, ti, and la” – played up the scale. Coffee, berries, honey, charcoal – flavors like that, all lavished upon the fire-bitten sides and warm tender collapse of farm-raised pork.

The truest test of deliciousness came with a sip of Barbera D’Alba. Somewhere in their roots the words Barbera and Barbecue must be related, because rarely has a food and wine met with such holy potency. This was a Sunday Supper. 

platter on table

Bourbon Barbecue Ribs


4-5 pounds baby back ribs

Formaggio Dry Rub or dry rub of your choice (Make sure you set aside 2 tablespoons for grilling later.)

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce with Sir Kensington’s Ketchup


1.  One day in advance: To prepare the ribs, strip off the thin membrane on the lower side. Make a cut or two into the membrane at one end of the rack, pushing the knife or your fingers under it to pull it off. It usually comes off easily.

2.  Coat the ribs well with the rub, and place in large plastic bags. Let sit overnight. (The rub and meat juices become a marinade.)

3.  The next day, at least 3 hours before serving time, preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Remove ribs from bags and wrap securely in foil. Place on baking sheets, and bake at this slow temperature for 2 hours. The meat should begin to shrink away from the ends of the bones, exposing them a bit. The meat should pull apart with no resistance.

4.  If you plan on grilling the ribs right away, fire up the grill, bringing the temperature to medium (4-5 seconds with the hand test). If you want to delay the grilling for more than an hour, cool the ribs, opening the foil to speed the process. Rewrap the ribs in the foil and refrigerate them until about 30 minutes before you plan to grill.

5.  Sprinkle the top side of the racks of ribs evenly with the remaining rub. Grill the ribs uncovered over medium heat for a total of about 20 minutes. Grill on each side for about 7 minutes to crisp. At this point, brush the ribs generously with the sauce and cook for about 6 minutes more, letting each side face the fire briefly. (Do Not be tempted to add the sauce earlier than this or the sugars in it will burn, and ruin your beautiful flavor.)

6.  The ribs are done when very tender with a surface that’s crisp in some spots and gooey with the sauce in others. Slice into individual ribs and pile on a platter. Serve with more sauce and paper towels!

Bourbon Barbecue Sauce with Sir Kensington Ketchup


1 cup Sir Kensington ketchup

1/4 cup molasses 2 tablespoons packed light or dark brown sugar

2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon onion powder

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

3-4 tablespoons Jim Beam Bourbon

salt, optional


1. Combine the ketchup, molasses, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, butter, mustard, onion powder, pepper, and chili powder in a saucepan with 1/2 cup water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes until thickened lightly. Stir in the bourbon and simmer another couple of minutes. Taste and add a bit of salt if needed, then cook for another minute or two. Sauce will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.


SUnday dinner