Friday, March 13, 2015

Spaghetti Rigate a Salsa di Pomodoro e Baccalà Fritto

     Batter Fried Dried Salt Cod & Pasta With Tomato Sauce! 
     I apprenticed with many great Italian chefs in several restaurants early in my career.  Apprenticing with Italian chefs is the best way to learn respect for authenticity and tradition.  Apprenticing in Italian restaurant kitchens is also the best way to learn classic sauté techniques and how to achieve the epitome of peak flavor with each ingredient used in a recipe.  
     Peak flavors from just a few simple ingredients is the theme of today's Italian recipe.  During Lent, food tends to be simple and it is not highly seasoned.  For example, just the basic components of a tomato sauce recipe is all that is needed.    
     For the tomato sauce that accompanies the baccalà fritto in today's recipe, only garlic, salt and pepper is all that is needed to flavor the sauce.  One would be considered lucky to find fresh basil leaves added to todays sauce.     
     Baccalà almost always used to be Salt Dried Cod.  Because of the depletion of the Atlantic Cod species, whitefish of any kind is now marketed as Baccalà.  Anything from Newfoundland Halibut Sole to Pollack is sold as Codfish Baccalà these days.  
     Good bargain prices can be found for baccalà at grocery stores where the managers are unfamiliar with this food product.  Baccalà is a slow selling specialty item that many American consumers are not familiar with.  Many grocers lack patience and this creates a bargain opportunity.
      The 1 pound box of baccala in the picture above was originally priced at $10.  After a few weeks of only selling a few boxes, the price was reduced to $5.  Still, there were few takers, so the manager resorted to clearing out the baccalà stock with a lowball "fire sale" price!  
     The manager probably did this because he feared that the product was reaching the end of its shelf life/ when in reality, the baccalà could sit on the shelf for several years and it still will be good.  Getting one pound of baccalà for $3 is a good example of bargain shopping at its best!
     In keeping with the Lent theme, the batter for the baccalà is as simple as a batter can be.  The batter is only made with water, flour, salt, black pepper and baking soda.  When looking at the crispy golden brown batter coating on the fish in the pictures, one would never imagine that such a simple batter could result in fried fish that looks this good.  This is a good example of how the theme uncomplicated simplicity plays a major role in Italian cuisine.  

     Baccalà Preparation:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.  
     Baccalà can be stored for many years.  
     Step 1:  Place 8 ounces of baccalà in a container.
     Rinse and drain the baccalà a few times with cold water.  
     Step 2:  Cover the baccalà with about 1 quart of cold water and place the container in a refrigerator.
     Let the baccalà soak and reconstitute, till it becomes as soft and tender as fresh fish.  
     *This process can take several days.  The baccalà that I prepared took a 5 days to fully reconstitute!  It is necessary to drain the water off twice per day and cover the fish with fresh water each time.  This process will leach the salt out of the fish and it will tame the strong salt cured fish flavor.    
     Step 3:  After the fish reconstitutes, remove any bones and trim off any parts that are discolored. 
     Cut the baccalà into large bite size pieces and keep them chilled till the fish is needed. 

     Semplice Salsa di Pomodoro:  
     This recipe makes about 2 to 3 portions of sauce!
     San Marzano Tomatoes are so tender, that the simmering time is less than half of regular plum tomatoes.  
     Step 1:  Place the contents of a 28 ounce can of imported Italian canned peeled whole San Marzano Tomatoes packed in their own juices into a mixing bowl
     Crush the tomatoes by hand, till the tomato pieces are smaller than 3/8"in size. 
     Step 2:  Place the tomatoes and juices in a food processor and quickly pulse for a total time of less than 5 seconds.  (Or use a hand turned food mill.)
     Set the prepared tomatoes aside.
     Step 3:  Heat a pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 2 1/2 ounces of olive oil.  (The olive oil proportion should be about 1/10 of the volume of the tomatoes.) 
     Add 3 cloves of finely chopped garlic.
     Sauté till the garlic is a golden color.
     Step 4:  Add 1 tablespoon of minced onion.
     Briefly sauté for a few seconds. 
     Step 5:  Add the reserved prepared tomatoes. 
     Add 1 small pinch of ground sage. 
     Add sea salt and ground black pepper.
     Add 5 or 6 whole fresh basil leaves.  (optional)
     Step 6:  Heat the sauce while stirring, till it starts to gently simmer.
     Step 7:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
      Gently simmer the sauce, till the excess liquid evaporates and the olive oil no longer separates from the sauce.  The finished sauce should have a medium thin tomato sauce consistency. 
     *Leave the pot uncovered.  (Never cover a pot of Italian tomato sauce with a lid, or the sauce will end up being stewed tomatoes!)  
     *Stir the sauce once every 5-7 minutes, so the olive oil combines with the tomatoes.  The sauce should be simmering gently and there should be very little bubbling on the surface.  Scrape the sauce that clings to the side of the pot back into the sauce.  That stuff is full of flavor!  It will take only about 45 minutes to 1 hour of simmering, because San Marzano Tomatoes are used.  
     Step 8:  Remove the pot from the heat.
     Reheat the sauce to order. 
     Simple Italian Batter For Baccalà:
     This recipe yields enough batter for 1 portion of baccalà.
     Place 1 1/2 cups of water in a mixing bowl.
     Add just enough flour, while whisking, to form a thin batter.  The batter should have a thin pancake batter consistency.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda.
     Whisk the ingredients together.

     Baccalà Fritto:
     Step 1:  Heat 8" of vegetable frying oil in a high sided pot to 360ºF.
     Step 2:  Dredge the baccalà pieces in flour.
     Step 3:  Dip each piece of baccalà in the batter, one at a time, and place it in the hot oil.  Try not to let the pieces stick together in the oil as they are added.
     Step 4:  Use a fryer net to turn the fish pieces in the oil, so they fry evenly.
     Fry the fish till the batter coating is crispy golden brown (CGB!).
     Step 5:  Use a fryer net to remove the baccalà fritto from the hot oil.
     Place the fried fish on a wire screen roasting rack to drain off any excess oil.
     Keep the baccalà fritto warm on a stove top.

     Spaghetti Rigate a Salsa di Pomodoro e Baccalà Fritto:
     Cooking pasta to order, till it is al dente is best!  
     There are two ways to present this pasta.  The baccalà fritto can be placed on top of the pasta or the fish can be added to the sauce and tossed with the pasta.
     Step 1:  Warm about 1 3/4 cups of the Simple Salsa di Pomodoro in a sauté pan over low heat. 
     Step 2:  Cook 1 generous portion of Thin Spaghetti Rigate in boiling water over high heat, till it is al dente.
     Drain the water off of the pasta.
     Step 3:  Add the pasta to the sauce in the pan.
     Toss the sauce and pasta together.
     Use a chef's carving fork to coil the pasta as it is placed on a plate.
     Pour the remaining tomato sauce in the pan over the pasta.
     Step 4:  Sprinkle a few pinches of finely grated Campo Montalban Cheese (Sini Fulvi ) or Romano Cheese over the pasta.  (Sini Fulvi is a great Italian cheese company.  Their Spanish Campo Montalban Cheese is very nice!)
     Step 5:  Arrange the baccalà fritto on top of the pasta so they look nice.
     Garnish the plate with Italian Parsley sprigs.

     Baccalà has a flavor that fits into the acquired taste category.  When prepared correctly, the flavor is mild and not too strong.  The flavor is kind of like a combination of aged cheese, fish, sea salt with a hint of natural Iodine.  For those who live for tradition, this is a great recipe to try!

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