Brandade is a dish served in the south of France. It consists of salt cod, olive oil, either milk or thick cream, and garlic. Before you say "yuk!", let me assure you that it tastes nothing like what it reads.
The origin of brandade is the dish "Aioli", served in Provence, which is basically salt cod, potatoes, and a sauce similar to a garlic mayonnaise. This sauce (also called aioli in France) is found in most of the Mediterranean countries under one name or another, but in Provence the marriage of garlic and olive oil is a holy thing.
It is, however, very robust fare. With the culinary adroitness of the French, the concept behind this dish has been refined since its inception. Aioli dates back to the mid-1700's; within 30 years the word "brandade" appeared in the lexicon as an offshoot of the Provençal word "brandado", meaning “things stirred”. Brandade, a descendent of aioli, is well-named because its success is based on a very prolonged stirring of the ingredients.
Concerning the rest of the name of this dish, morue today means "salt cod" although the origin, going back to ancient French and Latin, comes from "mor", a Celtic word meaning "sea", and "luz", an old French word for "brochet" (today a popular fresh water food fish). Another popular salt water food fish, the cabillaud, is also known as the "morue frais", the word "frais" in this case meaning fresh, or unsalted. Morue in the mid-1800's became a vulgar name for a certain class of woman, but that is irrelevant here. Finally, "de Nîmes" means "coming from the city of Nîmes".
Brandade was conceived in Provence but is today a traditional dish of the neighboring Languedoc region, an area west of the Rhône River with its southern boundary being the Mediterranean Sea. The main city of this region, Nîmes, was once a seaport but today is landlocked. The region has a north-south orientation. It lies just southeast of the mountainous range of the Cévennes. Until early in the last century, often the only salt water fish available to people living there was dried or salt cod.
Neighboring Provence, to the east of the Rhône, has an east-west orientation with its entire southern boundary being the seacoast. Provence, therefore, has always had a wide variety of seafood, producing such dishes as bouillabaisse, stuffed chapon (scorpion fish), sea bass in salt crust, squid stuffed with chipolata sausage and rice, etc, etc. Provençals eat salt cod mainly as an excuse to consume vast quantities of aioli. Languedocans , having only salt cod, were more inventive in their use of it. Nowhere did brandade diversify more than in the area of Nîmes.
If you want only the recipe, skip down to the bottom of the node right now. But be warned that it is labor intensive. To make it properly by hand, a team of two or three people was often used. The recipe here has been adapted to a food processor.
Today most French people buy brandade ready-made and "semi-conserved" in glass jars. This, as far as I know, is a uniquely French term meaning that the food has been preserved but must be used in less than a year, must be handled carefully, and often must be refrigerated. Another example of this are the raw Mediterranean anchovies which are sold in bulk in the open markets, packed in wet salt. Once purchased, they are generally cleaned and used (as an aperitif, or cocktail, snack) within a day or so.
Brandade consists of poached salt cod, deboned and pulverized, to which is alternately added dribbles of warm olive oil and warm milk or heavy cream while the mixture is continually stirred over a gentle heat. Lightly flavored with garlic, nutmeg, and white pepper, it can be eaten cold on toast but is generally warmed and served as a main dish with fried croutons or fried toast points. As a main dish, made with milk and oil, it can be accompanied by plain boiled potatoes. Alternately, it can be served au gratin with a light dusting of bread crumbs and passed through the oven.
It has become very upscale and today is often served with slices, or at least morsels, of black truffle embedded in it. Another version, made with white bread as a thickening agent, is lightly fried in oil, formed into bite-sized balls and then wrapped in blanched beetroot leaves before being served as an appetizer. Brandade is often used as a filling for vol-au-vents or can be mixed with puff pastry dough and deep fried like a fritter.
Originally, for rapid preparation and as an economy measure, brandade was sometimes made with boiled potato rather than olive oil. With today’s emphasis on low-fat diets, this has again become popular. However it is made, the finished product should be almost white in color, have the consistence of very fluffy whipped potatoes, and contain no trace of fiber from fish, potato or bread.
Brandade de morue de Nîmes
2 lbs of salt cod
2 cups of olive oil
1 cup of milk
juice of one lemon
Nutmeg, freshly-grated garlic (1 clove) and white pepper
The day before
Cut the cod evenly into a number of squares, put in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Change the water several times during the next 24 hours. When ready, the cod should taste just a bit saltier than a cooked fish that has been seasoned with salt. If you overdo this desalination process, add a scant handful of sea salt for the last hour.
Poach the cod. When it is cool, carefully remove all the bones and reduce the flesh to small shreds. Put the oil in a small pan and the milk in another. Heat each to a tepid temperature and maintain this temperature while doing the following:
Use a food processor or a mixer on a stand. Put in the cod and half the warm oil. Mix carefully until the oil is absorbed and there are no lumps of fish. Without stopping the mixing process, began to alternatively add the oil and then the milk, using no more than a half teaspoonful at a time. Mix well after each addition.
When the mixture is very creamy it can be seasoned with the lemon juice, garlic, nutmeg and white pepper. If the brandade is to be eaten immediately as a main dish, heat it slightly and then serve in a broad, shallow bowl garnished with fried croutons or toast points.
Refrigerated, it will keep up to a week.