March 25 marks Greek National Independence Day and the Annunciation. While this day usually falls during lent it is the custom, allowed by the Church, to pause in fasting and eat fish.
By far the most popular fish of choice on this day (and one of the pillars of Greek cuisine) is Fried Salt Cod Fillets accompanied by skordalia, a garlic spiked potato puree. A simple boiled beetroot salad (which includes the beetroot leaves) dressed in olive oil and Greek wine vinegar, is also a traditional side dish. While fried salt cod seems a simple dish, the Greek version of fish and chips, it is far from it. The crunchy coating of the cod, fried in olive oil, has a soft savoury inside - an addictive combination.
Ordinarily, the dish is made with a fluffy beer batter (you can find the traditional recipe here). However, this year I decided to opt for a change and prepared the cod in with a lighter lemon zest and herb flavoured crust, using gluten free flour.
Fried salt cod (Μπακαλιάρος)
Serves 4; preparation time 24 hours, cooking time 30 minutes
1 large piece of salt cod, soaked for 24 hours Olive oil, for frying
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1 tablespoon of cornflour
1 tablespoon of polenta
1 tablespoon of Sparoza herb and spice blend with lemon zest
1. At least 24 hours ahead of time, cut the cod into pieces and put into a large basin with enough water to cover them amply. Change the water at least 8-10 times to be sure that it will remove all the salt. **
2. After the fish has been desalted, skin the fillets then pat the fillets with paper towels, so that they are completely dry and all water is removed.
3. In a shallow bowl, combine the flours and spice blend. Dredge the fillets in the flour until they are completely coated.
4. Pan fry the fish: Heat a large, heavy nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over moderately high heat. Add around 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and swirl to coat the pan. When the pan is hot, tap the fish lightly to knock off any excess flour and place in the pan. Cook until the bottom side is golden. Turn and cook until golden on the second side. Drain briefly on paper towelling and then serve with lemon wedges.
** Note: The pre-soaking time for the cod will depend on how heavily salted and how dry it is. Overnight soaking is a good rule of thumb, but older recipes often call for a full 3 days of of soaking.
Serves 4; cooking time 40 minutes
1/2 cup olive oil
1 head of garlic
2 lemons, juiced
Salt to taste
1. Boil the potatoes in their skins, until tender.
2. While the potatoes are boiling, add the garlic cloves to a mortar and pestle, along with a little salt and make into a smooth garlic paste. Set aside.
3. Drain the potatoes, remove the skins and pass them through a food mill into a bowl.
4. Mix the pureed potatoes with the garlic paste and a little olive oil and lemon juice, alternately and bit by bit, to combine until creamy, but also still light and fluffy. Drizzle with a little more olive oil before serving.