A traditional Greek meal of salt cod with garlic mash potatoes: Bakaliaro with skordalia
Every day is a blessing, but some days have particular significance and meaning. For Greeks, March 25th is one of those special days, as it represents two very important events, one religious and the other, political. The former is the Annunciation of the Theotokos. On this day, we commemorate the message which the Virgin Mary received from the Archangel Gabriel informing her that she was chosen, amongst all women, to be the Mother of Jesus Christ. March 25th therefore holds sacred religious meaning. At the same time, it’s political significance commemorates Greek Independence Day. It is commonly understood that it was on March 25, 1821 that Metropolitan (Bishop) Germanos spearheaded the revolution which would ultimately lead to independence for all Greeks from the Ottoman rule which had oppressed them for nearly 400 years. Both of these events are commemorated with a National holiday in Greece. Such a day of celebration allows for the strict Lent which many follow in these days preceding Easter to be lifted, and eating fish is permitted.
And not just any fish. Traditionally, cod (bakaliaro) is served, along with a side of skordalia; essentially a mashed potato spread with a serious kick of garlic. Both the cod and skordalia are delicious on their own, but combined, they are incredible. The creamy skordalia complements the crispy fried fish perfectly. Think of it as British fish and chips, Greek style.
Because the cod which is used is dried and salted, you need some advance planning. The fish must be soaked for at least 24 hours before it can be prepared, which means if you are reading this post on the day it was posted, and you want to prepare this meal for March 25th…you can! Time to go shopping! You can do it!
The cod which is used in this recipe is boneless, dry, salted cod, without the skin. It is quite readily available in Mediterranean grocery stores, large supermarkets or a well stocked fishmonger. Because the fish is preserved in salt, it keeps for a long time. Our parents like to stock up and often keep extras in the refrigerator, in their original packaging. Despite the fact that in theory, salt cod does not need refrigeration, it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful. In any case, the salt which preserves the fish also makes it very, very salty (duh). Therefore, before you even think about cooking your cod, you have to rinse it to remove all the excess surface salt, and then soak it in a bowl of cold water for at least 24 hours (and potentially up to 72 hours), depending upon the size of your fish.
Prior to soaking your cod you should cut it into serving size pieces, trying to keep them all relatively equal in order to standardize the cooking time. Rinse each piece and place them in a large bowl and cover them with water. Store the soaking fish in the refrigerator. Change the water at least twice a day, and more often if possible. You will notice that your cod will look somewhat larger after it has soaked for a while. This is expected since your fish is being rehydrated. Take a look at the cod pieces in our photos – these pieces were soaked for approximately 36 hours and were perfectly delicious.
The skordalia, which is a perfect partner for the fried cod has, as a key ingredient, garlic. A lot of garlic. Our parents suggest removing the green part of the garlic clove which is sometimes present. They carefully slice each garlic clove in half to check if that green thing (what is that thing?!) is there, and if so, remove it. Not doing so will give your skordalia an off colour.
Speaking of colour, they also suggest that it is important to allow the potatoes to cool somewhat before assembling your skordalia. They spoke in horror about the time, one fine morning, that they woke up to find that the skordalia they had made the evening before had turned a bizarre green colour. Into the garbage it went. They are convinced that this was either due to an errant green garlic thing they had failed to notice, or, hot potatoes. Who knows… but since paying attention to both of these details, their skordalia is always a pretty bland beige. Perfect.
The cloves of garlic used in the skordalia are combined with some salt and crushed together using a mortar and pestle. The mortar and pestle our parents use is ancient; it is at least as old as each of us. Okay…so not exactly ancient! Not even that old actually. Listen, that mortar and pestle is in the prime of it’s life!
In either case, if you have a mortar and pestle, use it to make a paste of the garlic. If you don’t, you can use a garlic press to mince the garlic. Alternatively, you can try to meticulously chop the garlic cloves into very fine pieces. The key is that you want the garlic to be mixed evenly throughout the potato mixture, without actually having pieces of garlic to chew on.
The recipe below will give you a skordalia that is at once very garlicky, and very tangy (because of the vinegar). This is the way we love it. If you find that you would prefer it more or less in either flavour, you can adjust the amount of garlic and vinegar that you add. It’s that simple!
Mia Kouppa: Cod and Potato Garlic Puree
- For the cod:
- 1/2 kilogram boneless, dry salted cod
- 1 cup (150 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- vegetable oil for frying For the skordalia
- 5 medium sized potatoes, red-skinned
- 3/4 teaspoons salt + an additional 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 medium head garlic
- 1/3 cup (80 mL) red wine vinegar
- 1 cup (250 mL) vegetable oil
- For the cod:
- Cut the dry cod in serving size pieces, keeping each piece relatively equal to the other. The dry, salted cod must be soaked in cool water, and kept in the refrigerator for 24 – 48 hours. The water must be changed at least daily.
- Remove cod from the water and dry on a paper towel.
- Season the flour with pepper and coat the cod pieces with the flour.
- Add vegetable oil to a frying pan so that it is at least one inch deep. Heat the oil. When the oil is hot enough so that something sizzles when it is placed in the oil, add the cod. Fry the cod over medium heat, flipping it as required, until it is golden brown on all sides and cooked through. This should take about 15 minutes total.
- Remove the cod from the frying pan and let drain on a paper towel lined plate in order to soak up some of the excess oil. For the skordalia:
- Peel the potatoes and cut into cubes.
- Bring a pot of water to a boil, add 3/4 teaspoon salt and when the water is boiling add the potatoes. Boil until they are mash-able, approximately 15 minutes (this will depend upon the size of your potato chunks).
- While the potatoes are boiling, prepare your garlic. Peel the garlic, check each clove for any green parts and remove them. Then combine the garlic with 1 teaspoon of salt. Place the garlic and salt in a mortar and pestle and turn it into a paste.
- When the potatoes have boiled, mash them. If you need to add liquid in order to make them creamier and easier to mash, add 1/4 cup of the water that they were boiled in.
- Allow potatoes to cool.
- In a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the cooled mashed potatoes, garlic paste, red wine vinegar and vegetable oil. Whisk together for 3 – 5 minutes on medium speed until all of the ingredients are well combined. Enjoy.