Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The New Mølje

I started writing this entry 5 days ago, but due to lack of time I only managed to finish it today...

So far I have discussed two of the three components of mølje. The only thing missing is the fish, and this is the easy bit, although cooking cod requires some care. Fresh cod cooked correctly is has a heavenly moist and flaky texture with a mouth melting feel to it. When overcooked it becomes a bit tough and stringy and sticks between your teeth like wet cotton fluff. Andreas Viestad has come up with a fail-safe method for cooking cod perfectly (in Norwegian), but it can be done even simpler. So, here is my method:

Bring a kettle with salty water to the boil. The water should be very salty, approx. 8-10% salt by weight. That's 4-5 big spoon fulls per liter! Add a splash of white vinegar, as this helps keep the very tender fish together. Remove the kettle from the heat, plop in the fish pieces and wait a minute or two. Using a sharp pairing knife, poke the fish where it is the thickest, or close to the bone in the case of cod slices. When the knife goes through with just a tiny bit of rubbery resistance, the fish is done. This usually takes 3-5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Remove the fish with a spider and serve with boiled potatoes, cod roe and liver paté. And maybe a little melted butter. Butter is always good.

There is a slight variation on how to cook the cod, which has the additional advantage that you are left with a very nice base for a light fish stock. Instead of salting the water and using vinegar, take the fish pieces and cover, yes cover, them in coarse sea salt. There is no too much salt here. Let them sit in the salt for 15-25 min. This will not only salt, but also firm up the fish so it does not necessarily need any vinegar. A little white wine is never wrong though. Rinse off the salt under cold running water, before proceeding exactly as above. When the fish pieces are cooked you are left with a delightful light fish stock, which can be improved on by recooking it with all the bones left on the plates, a bit of onion, carrot, bay leaf, peppercorns and whatever else that comes to mind. Too good.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Cod roe recipes

For completeness sake I'll add my cod roe recipes. Cod roe comes packaged in surprisingly sturdy, semi-transparent bags, with a mesh of not particularly appetizing blood vessels under the surface. They also very chewy, and not at all pleasant to eat. The proper viking way of (over)cooking them is to simply drop them into boiling water and wait 20-30 min. They come out gray, hard and brittle, looking like the giant scrotum of a dead, waterlogged junkie. Not quite my cup of tea.
So, what can be done? Firstly, cut open the sacks, and using a spatula carefully dislodge the million small eggs into a bowl. Then add 1% salt by mass and whatever spices you might like. Here are my favorites:

1. Finely ground allspice
2. Finely chopped onion
3. Double cream
4. All or any of the above
5. Nothing, let the roe shine in all it's glory

You can also add one egg yolk per ca 200 g of roe to bind it together a bit more. Now divide the roe into 300-400 g portions and pour it onto some heat resistant cling film (i.e. Glad wrap). The roe is quite viscous, so it will not flow out before you have time to react. Wrap the film around the roe and shape into a nice sausage, twist the ends to tighten a bit, and tie off. Steam the sausages in a double boiler until you reach a core temperature of 56 C. Let cool, unwrap and slice. Makes a delicious little side dish, or as topping for a piece of rustic bread with butter. Mayo is also good.

Here are some thoughts: When the roe is uncooked it has a beautiful orange color. When cooked, no matter how carefully, it turns a dull gray. Adding carrot juice could work really nicely (together with the egg yolk) both for taste, sweetness and color. Turmeric or saffron might also help relieve the problem, and provide both depth and flavor. I have not experimented extensively with cooking temperature, but as with fish in general, the lower the better usually. Cod is unfortunately very often infected with the anisakis worm and other parasites, so unless the roe has been frozen first, you need to make sure you reach a core temperature which kills all parasites.

What in the name of Cod!

So there I was, with a big pile of fresh and extremely fatty cod liver in front of me. Pretty nasty stuff, and somehow I needed to turn this into food for human consumption. We were about to have a northern Norwegian mølje party, with mostly foreigners at the table. Mølje is the traditional dish made from skrei, the fatty winter cod which comes into the fjords to spawn. It consists of boiled slices of cod, cod roe cooked in the sack and boiled cod liver. Very good if you were born above the arctic circle, but for rest of us, it's rather nasty in a niceish way. You know, the fish is fantastic and succulent, the roe is grainy and not too unpleasant, and then the liver; Grayish brown, collapsed and leaking fish oil. You taste it and go: "Well, that wasn't quite as bad as it looks.". But you will not ever go for seconds. Ever.
More as a sick joke than anything else, I decided that the liver needed to presented in a more palatable, or at least in a not so unappetizing looking manner. So, I google for cod liver pate. Zero hits! I could not believe it. If it's not in google, it's nowhere. It has not been done before! Since I knew the liver was going to end up in the compost bin anyway, I decided to fearlessly do some experimentation. This resulted in two different recipes for cod liver paté, which will be published in a moment. My biggest technical fear was that the livers would leak out most of the fat, and I would end up with a split liver mess floating around in fish liver oil. Like a failed Sauce Hollandaise from hell. But, to my great surprise both patés came out of the oven nicely browned on the top and had a pleasantly solid consistency. The even greater surprise was that they tasted good! Really good actually! Almost delicious! In fact, what happened at the party was that they were finished. Gone! They ate it all. And that's when I decided that google needed to be augmented with information about cod liver paté. Not that it's likely ANYONE will ever stumble upon this blog, but at least the information will be there for future generations.

In Cod we trust.

Cod Liver Paté, recipe 1

500 g fresh and fatty cod liver
1 onion
1 small bunch of fresh thyme
black pepper to taste
5 g salt
1 dl bread crumbs or 2 slices stale white bread

1 egg

Clean the cod liver: Cod liver happens to be the favourite playground for the anisakis nematode, and there can be hundreds of them on a single large liver. Since you are going to puree the liver and cook it, they are not a problem per se, but they are the ultimate spoiler of a healthy appetite. By removing the thin membrane covering the liver you remove more than 80% of the worms. Using a pair of tweezers, remove the remaining worms.

Combine all ingredients except the egg, and whizz in a food processor to a smooth paste. Mix in the egg, and let the mixture rest for a while in the fridge so the bread softens and the onion gives off as much taste as possible. The purée is quite runny, and not paste-like. Strain the purée through a moderately fine-meshed sieve. You will be left with a ladlefull of goop, which makes nice compost. Pour the smooth liver mixture into an oven-proof dish, and bake on a water bath at 160 C for 30-40 min until done. Let cool, unmould carefully and serve.

This paté is partially bound by starch, and has a bit more substance and bite to it. It can therefore be unmoulded.

Cod Liver Paté, recipe 2

500 g fresh and fatty cod liver
1 onion
1 small bunch of fresh thyme
white pepper to taste
5 g salt

1 dl double cream
2 eggs

Clean the cod liver: See recipe 1.

Combine all ingredients except the egg and the cream, and whizz in a food processor to a smooth paste. Mix in the egg and the cream. Strain the purée through a moderately fine-meshed sieve. Pour the liver mixture into an oven-proof dish, and bake on a water bath at 160 C for 30-40 min until done. Let cool, and serve directly from the mould.

This paté, or terrine, is very soft and has a nice velvety consistency. It tastes fantastic on a small piece of toasted bread.