18 April 2014

Worth Its Salt Fish

The classic pairing of salt cod and parsnip... turned pub grub.

The classic coupling of salt cod and parsnip becomes a variation on the much-loved meal of fish & chips.

Seed-Crusted Salt Fish with Parsnip & Carrot Chips

for the fish:

salted cod, center loin section, skinned (for each person, a piece about the size of a pack of cards, give or take)
all-purpose flour
egg, beaten
about 1/4 c. each sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds (hulled) for every 2-3 pieces of fish

for the chips:

1 carrot per person
2 parsnips per person
ice cubes

oil for frying (peanut and/or sunflower)

for the vinaigrette/ dipping sauce:

1 small shallot
a generous pinch of salt
4 anchovy fillets
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 c. good olive oil


Soak the salt cod in a large bowl of cold water.  Change the water twice a day (more if you think about it more often).  You may have heard that you can speed up the removal of excess salt by boiling the fish, which is true, but it will fall apart... that's okay for fish cakes or brandade, but you want to keep this fish intact; take the time for a cold soak.


Drain the salt fish and let it sit in a colander or sieve to drain and allow the surface to dry somewhat.

Cut your carrots and parsnips into long, thin sticks (about 5-6 mm wide; closer to an allumette than a julienne).  You want them to be fairly even, but don't get bent out of shape about it; a little variation is good, it means your food will look hand-made.  Anything really badly misshapen can be fed to your dogs as treats.  Put the cut vegetables in a bowl of ice water (mostly ice), and let them sit long enough to curl up a bit.

Cut the carrots and parsnips into sticks, a bit thinner than a snacking carrot stick, but thicker than a julienne.  Soaking them in ice water will give them a bit of a curl. 

Now is a good time to make your vinaigrette.  This will make way more than you need for your salt fish but don't worry about leftovers, you'll use them (salad dressing, drizzle for lamb chops, mixed into lean ground meat for burgers, sauce for steamed or poached fish, dip for fresh bread...). 

Roughly mince the shallot.  Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and use the blade or handle of your knife to press or grind the shallot into a paste on your chopping board.  (If you have a mortar and pestle, feel free to use that fancy high-tech equipment instead.)  Roughly cut anchovy and then work the fish into the shallot paste.  Scrape the paste into a small mixing bowl and whisk in remaining ingredients.  I like vinaigrette to remain separated so I don't whisk to emulsification, just enough to combine well (it looks nicer if you don't mind stirring it up every time you use it).  Let sit at room temperature until serving, allowing the flavours to mingle.


Crusting the salt cod with pumpkin and
sunflower seeds is messy, but definitely
worth the effort.
Drain your carrots and parsnips.  

Get out three shallow bowls and a plate.  Line them up on your counter.  Put flour in the first bowl, beat an egg in the second bowl and mix the seeds in the third bowl.

For deep frying, you need the oil deep enough to submerge your food, but you also need to leave a 3-5 cm gap at the top of the pan to accommodate the volume of your food and some bubbling-up.  Choose a pan with this in mind (also paying attention to how much oil you have).  

Heat oil over medium to med-high heat.  The oil is hot when you can see long streaks in it and when bubbles rise up swiftly but not vigorously when you press a wooden spoon handle against the bottom of the pan.  If you refuse to fry without a thermometer, aim for about 365-370F.

Working in batches as necessary, gently lower your carrots and parsnips into the oil and cook until they are a light golden brown (about 6-8 minutes).  (Don't over do it, these are going back in the oil just before eating.) Remove and let them drain in a metal sieve over a heat-proof bowl or spread across brown paper.

While the carrot-parsnip-fries are cooking, crust your fish.  Dredge in flour, then coat with egg.  Let the excess egg drip off, then press the fish firmly into the seeds.  Crust all sides with as much seed as will stick.  Lay flat on the plate.  Crusting the fish is messy and your fingers will feel gross from being stuck with egg and seeds.  If you have someone willing to help, delegate this job to them and be prepared with a bunch of encouraging things to say.  (Don't forget to check your fries once in a while.)

While the carrots and parsnips are draining, cook your fish.  Submerge in the hot oil and cook until the seed crust looks well toasted, about 4 minutes.  Remove to a metal sieve over a heat-proof bowl or drain on brown paper.

While the fish is draining, return the carrots and parsnips to the oil for about 2 minutes.  The golden brown colour should intensify.  Remove to drain.   Salt while they are still piping-hot and toss to coat.


I am convinced that fish and chips is a meal best shared from a common plate and eaten with your fingers. So cover your table with a few layers of newspaper (lots of layers for this meal, see note) and tip the fries and fish onto the surface.  Whisk your vinaigrette and serve on the side for dipping or use a spoon to drizzle over the fish & chips.

(If you decide to serve on individual plates, put a couple of layers of newsprint or brown paper on the plate.)


Salt cod does not taste like fresh cod.  It has more presence.  This fish is fantastically delicious with the earthy crunchy seed crust matching the intensity of the fish... but if you are expecting something like fresh or frozen cod, you'll be too surprised to fully appreciate the dish.

The carrots and parsnips are sweet and punchy with flavour, but oily.  Totally moreish, but be sure to have a thick layer of paper under them.  


A few years ago, an issue of La Cucina Italiana had a recipe for a seed-crusted salt cod appetizer.  There seemed to be a million different kinds of seeds that we didn't have in the house at the time.  We didn't have salt cod in the house either... it's possible I still thought salt cod was only good for fishcakes then. 

But I loved the idea of it.  I've been thinking about that fish for three years.

Salt cod has a particular cultural importance here in Newfoundland (I might bore you with the history another time, but not now), and you can buy it anywhere.  It's for sale in grocery stores, road side fish trucks, vegetable stands... I've even seen salt cod for sale at gas stations and craft shows.  When we first moved here I couldn't understand why anyone would purposefully choose salted fish over fresh or frozen cod.  It took me a ridiculously long time to overcome my baseless mainlander snobbery around salt fish, but I'm glad I did.

Here's the thing about salt cod: it's not fresh cod.  You can't expect to use them same way.  It's not a choice of salted or fresh, you pick the one you need for the task at hand.  Salt cod is dense and concentrated, and even well-soaked, it bites back; but that's precisely the beauty of it, not the problem.  Making that psychological leap changed everything.   

A couple weeks ago, Fefe Noir heard a radio program mentioning that Romans traditionally paired salt cod with parsnip.  You know that lovely feeling of epiphany, that moment when suddenly everything seems to make sense?  It was like that.  Salty and intense fish matched with the ethereal sweetness of winter parsnip... of course.  Which brings us the second plate in our fish and chips project.


  1. LOVED those carrot parsnip fries :) Looks delicious. Going to pin the back end out of it ;)

  2. Thanks! We are big parsnip-carrot fans here... planning to pan-roast some for dinner tonight.


Tell us what you think!