I’m a big salt cod proponent – it’s semi-cheap (once you factor in how you’re not paying for the water), much tastier than normal fish because the drying process concentrates the flavors, and it keeps forever. So, this recipe seemed like it would be a simple, pleasant success. It wasn’t a train wreck, but…
Get dried cod and soak them in warm water for eight hours more or less, depending on their size for, even though some people pound them with a rod to make them tender, nevertheless I do not advise that, it being better to let them soften by themselves, as experience has shown me. They are parboiled, and when that’s done you can make a pottage of them with beaten onions…And if you want to fry them, they are floured and then fried, being served…with mustard in dishes.
To prepare a sweet mustard: Get a pound of grape juice, another pound of quince cooked in sugared wine, four ounces of apples cooked in sugared wine, three ounces of orange peel, two ounces of candied lime peel and half an ounce of candied nutmegs; in a mortar grind up all of the confections along with the quince and apples. When that is done, strain it together with the grape juice, adding in three ounces of clean mustard seed, more or less…add in a little salt, finely ground sugar, half an ounce of ground cinnamon and a quarter-ounce of ground cloves.
I decided to fry them because, in the past I’ve made chowder from salt cod, made a casserole with potato and onion, cooked them with eggs and chorico, but never fried them (I’ve seen Portuguese and Italian cookbooks that still have what amounts to this same recipe for fried salt cod). I think Scappi’s direction that they be soaked (I usually do it overnight changing the water a couple times to let the salt escape) instead of “pound them with a rod” inspires confidence. I can’t imagine you end up with much more than scattered bits of mashed salt cod after a good pounding.
After parboiling, they flour up nicely since they’re so recently re-hydrated, and are a cinch to fry. As with all fish, it’s pretty easy to overcook salt cod, and I may very well have done it here. In most salt cod recipes, after parboiling, you flake the cod into small pieces and then cook it. Here, you’re flouring and frying the whole piece, which makes tenderness much more of an issue. Either way, the cod was a little tough in the end, but that wasn’t really the problem.
Now, I really mailed in the mustard, and all I have in my defense is the pretty obvious fact that this is the craziest mustard recipe ever. Here’s how I went about, um, expediting the mustard recipe. Quince cooked in sugared wine? Quince jelly. Apples cooked in sugared wine? Apples. Mustard seed? Grey poupon (shocking, I know, but the recipe is from 1777 so it’s not as bad as it seems). Cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon – check. Orange peel? Sure. Candied lime peel? Pass. Still, despite my best efforts to screw this up, the mustard was delicious. Sweet and spicy simultaneously – really not alternating or cancelling flavors, but just at the same moment.
I had high hopes, but, it turns out that sweet mustard with apples and quince, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, doesn’t go with fried salt cod. Doesn’t go at all. On a plate with a pheasant leg, though? Looks super.