For years I kept reading about brandade, but it wasn’t until we went to Paris in 2011 that I tried it at Brasserie Balzar on Rue des Écoles, chosen because of Adam Gopnik’s story in the August 3, 1998 issue of The New Yorker about Brasserie Balzar in its earlier years.
Not surprisingly, I loved brandade on first taste. The brandade at Brasserie Balzar was a smooth mixture of salt cod and potatoes and garlic and cream, delicious on toast.
A few days later we were at what turned out to be our favorite restaurant in Paris, Le Sâotico on Rue de Richelieu, in the middle of the afternoon. We were the only customers at that hour and chef Hugues Gournay took our orders, brought our drinks, then cooked and served the incredible food. The chef played a British CD featuring the stellar American blues singer Debby Moore, who recorded one and only one album, in 1959. It was all wonderful.
I wanted more brandade and a nice glass of red Sancerre. It was an unexpected pleasure to find that Hugues’ brandade was very different from the Balzar version, with lots more garlic and bits of parsley and what seemed to be green garlic and bigger chunks of cod.
I was always a chunky gazpacho fan and now I’m a chunky brandade fan too. I’ve been trying to replicate Hugues’ brandade ever since we left Paris. David Lebovitz’s recipe in My Paris Kitchen comes closest, but to keep the brandade chunky I mash it by hand rather than use a stand mixer, and in the Sâotico spirit I add parsley and green garlic.
1 pound salt cod
2/3 cup olive oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 sprigs thyme
2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced green garlic, if you can find any
sea salt or kosher salt (to taste)
Toasted or grilled bread, to serve
2 tablespoons dried bread crumbs
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
Rinse the excess salt off the pieces of salt cod and submerge them in a bowl of cold water in the refrigerator for 24 hours, changing the water three times.
Combine the olive oil, garlic, and thyme in a small saucepan and heat until the oil just starts to bubble. Turn off the heat, cover, and set aside.
Drain the salt cod and put it and the potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil, decrease to a simmer, and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, until the fish and the potatoes are both very tender.
Drain the salt cod and potatoes. When cool enough to handle, remove any bones, fins, and tough pieces of skin. Be sure to go through the fish carefully as any trace of skin or bones will be unpleasant to come across in the final dish.
Transfer the fish and potatoes to a bowl and mash by hand with a potato masher to whatever consistency you prefer. You can use a stand mixer, but do not use a food processor or immersion blender because it will make the brandade gluey. Remove the thyme from the garlic-infused oil and scrape the oil into the bowl; add the cream, black pepper, parsley, and green garlic. Mix until it is as smooth as you want it. It shouldn’t need any salt, but taste it and add some if needed.
Preheat the oven to 400°F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Butter a baking dish that will hold all the brandade in a layer at least 1 1/2 inches thick, and spread the brandade in it. Set the pan on a foil-lined baking sheet.
To make the topping, toss the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan together in a small bowl with a small pour of olive oil–just enough to moisten the crumbs–then sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top. Bake for 20 minutes, until bubling hot and nicely browned on top. Serve with toasted bread.
Postscript: after hearing the Debby Moore album in Paris in 2011, I tried for the next 5 years to find the music. Finally on January 2, 2017 I succeeded in finding Debby’s album on iTunes. I added this Brandade de Morue post that day and “Liked” Debby Moore on Facebook. Three days later, this Facebook post appeared.
I had found Debby on the day she died.