Around Easter time I was playing around with salt fish or salt cod for recipes. The original ‘processed’ food, salting meat or fish preserved it and allowed food to be stored in times of scarcity without much change to the original ingredient.
Sadly out of fashion in modern Britain in favour of heavily processed ingredients that are increasingly removed from their constituent parts, it’s well worth seeking out salt fish if you have a Caribbean store or section of your local supermarket. It’s a delicious and easy way to eat fish especially if you aren’t sure where to start with heads and tails.
Living in Lambeth tends to give you a taste for peri-peri sauce. Traditionally associated with chicken, this sauce with its roots in Portugal via Africa adds flavour and punch to any dish.
Here I’ve combined it with salt cod which is popular in Portugal around Easter time and in Caribbean all year round and then given it a Mexican twist by putting it all inside two tortillas and adding cheese to make a quesadilla. That’s a level of cultural blending only Brixton tends to do.
Salting cod has been used as a way to preserve fish for centuries throughout the world and even now it makes an excellent store cupboard staple that is easier and quicker to prepare than you might think.
It can be soaked overnight if you have time and then gently simmered until tender and flaky or you can speed it all up by rinsing it twice in boiling water and then cooking at a rolling boil for 30 minutes and you’re ready to use it.
The recipe for the peri peri sauce makes enough to make a whole jarful as you’re likely to want to go back to it again and again and it’s so much better than many bought versions.
Peri Peri Salt Fish Quesadillas (serves 4)
For the peri peri sauce (makes about 220ml)
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper
- 6-8 dried or fresh peri peri chillies (also known as birds eye chillies)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 50ml olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
For the quesadillas:
- 250g salt cod
- 1 tablespoon peri peri sauce (see above)
- 1 lime, juiced
- 4 spring onions, sliced
- 8 medium sized flour tortillas
- 250g mozzarella, grated
- salsa, guacamole or sour cream to serve
I get the dried piri piri chillies in O Talho in Atlantic Road and the Wing Tai in Electric Avenue often stocks fresh ones along with their Thai selection. If shopping outside Brixton, look in the Thai section for birds eye chillies. The rule tends to be that the smaller the chilli, bigger the kick so don’t be tempted to add extra unless you like serious heat.
Peel the garlic and cut each clove into a small dice and place in a saucepan. Add the chillies, leaving the scotch bonnet whole but removing the stalk, along with the olive oil, vinegar, juice of both lemons and the zest of one. Simmer it all on a low heat for about 10 minutes until the garlic is softened.
Add the dried herbs and paprika, allow to cool for 10 minutes and blitz in a blender or pound in a pestle and mortar. Sterilise a clean glass jar in the oven at 160℃ for 10 minutes or boil in a pot of water for the same amount of time and add the peri peri sauce while the jar is still hot. It’ll keep for up to a month in the fridge.
I bought my salt cod at Ilias’s in Brixton Village as they sell beautiful fillets by weight, but the packets you see round Brixton (or your supermarket) will do just as well. If you’re soaking it overnight, don’t remove the skin or bones first.
Depending whether you buy the fillets or the packet version, cook as above. I find the packet version better for cooking quickly (and for having in the cupboard.)
Drain the cooked salt fish well and rinse once more with boiling water before allowing to drain again for 5 minutes and cool slightly. Flake it well with your fingers and put in a large bowl. Juice the lime over it and add the spring onions and the peri peri sauce. Mix it all well with spoon and not your fingers. You can use the mix immediately or leave it covered in the fridge for up to 24 hours to marinate.
When you are ready to make the quesadillas, grate the mozzarella if using balls of it and wrap it in a clean cloth or teatowel and squeeze the extra liquid out it.
Heat a dry frying pan on high heat and catter about a quarter of it and a quarter of the salt fish mixture over one tortilla and place the second one on top like a sandwich. Repeat with each.
Fry each one separately for 2 minutes each side in the hot pan and leave to cool for 2 minutes before slicing into quarters and serving with your choice of salsa, guacamole, sour cream or salad. These are spicy and filling and an incredibly tasty lunch.