Cindy Rynning who blogs at Grape Experiences, threw down the challenge for this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend group of bloggers: Comfort food and wine. This should have been really easy, who doesn’t love comfort food? I certainly do. The problem for me was choosing just one dish. So many came to mind, I couldn’t focus on just one. I delayed, unable to make a decision, as many other bloggers in the group shared their pairings on our Facebook page. But, for once, procrastination paid off.
The inspiration for our comfort food pairing came from a dish we enjoyed recently in a restaurant. It is one I had never tried and never even heard of. On the advice of Pete’s sister Marie, with whom we were enjoying a dinner of small plates at a restaurant in San Francisco, we ordered Salt Cod Brandade Gratin. With one taste of the warm, garlicky, salty spread I knew this was the dish I wanted to prepare for Cindy’s challenge.
As someone who has prepared Brandade de Morue, Marie advised me to find an authentic recipe — one without additional seasoning and herbs beyond the basic. She said it wasn’t too difficult to prepare and we quickly searched for recipes. She was right, Brandade de Morue isn’t difficult to make. I does take a bit of planning, but goes together very easily.
With the food portion of our pairing planned, I focused on the wine. The exact origin of Brandade de Morue is open to debate. According to some it is Provence, others credit nearby Nîmes. Hoping to pair a wine from a region more specific than Provence, I looked for a Costières de Nîmes. No luck. We were able to find a wine from the nearby Lirac AOC, which makes only a small amount of white wine much like Costières de Nîmes, using the same grape varieties. I bet people in Lirac eat Brandade de Morue too!
Salted dried cod fish. Sounds scary but, thanks to my Portuguese heritage, I am familiar with the stuff. I’ve even cooked with it a time or two. We first enjoyed salt cod in various dishes during our visits to the Azores Islands. It’s delicious, and generally not too fishy tasting.
The Atlantic Cod inhabits temperate waters in a band stretching from Norway across to the Faroe Islands, Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland. Their range then continues down the coast of Nova Scotia to New England, finally reaching the Carolinas. Author Mark Kurlansky makes a compelling argument in his aptly-titled book, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, that it is not coincidental that the path taken by the Vikings to Newfoundland follows the range of the Atlantic Cod.
The Vikings learned to dry codfish, thereby extending its “shelf life”. But it was the Basque people, according to Kurlansky, who perfected the technique of first salting and then drying codfish. This significantly extended the durability of the fish and meant it could be caught, salted and dried then transported for trade to the Mediterranean. For many years these intrepid Basque fishermen managed to keep the location of their fishing grounds secret. Business was good, wouldn’t you?
This explains why salt cod is used in recipes in places like Provence and the Languedoc regions of France that lie beyond the normal range of the Atlantic Cod. Salt cod recipes are common in Spain, Portugal, France and elsewhere around the Mediterranean. It was favored by the British, Dutch and Scandinavians as well.
The recipe I prepared is one I found at Serious Eats. In addition to the recipe, Daniel Gritzer includes some interesting history behind the dish.
Brandade de Morue
- 1 pound salt cod
- 1/2 pound whole russet potatoes
- 5 medium whole cloves garlic, plus 2 optional minced medium cloves garlic, divided
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup half-and-half
- Kosher salt and white pepper
- sliced, toasted baguette for serving
- Rinse salt cod to remove salt and place in a large container filled with cold water. If necessary, cut salt cod into smaller pieces so that all cod remains submerged. Soak in water for 24 hours, refrigerated, changing the water several times.
- Bake potato(s) at 350º F until tender (about 1 hour). When cooled, split open, scoop out the potato and mash using a potato masher or fork. Set aside.
- Drain salt cod and place in a medium saucepan. Cover with cold water and add 5 whole cloves garlic, thyme, and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook for 10 minutes, then remove from heat and let stand in cooking liquid for 20 minutes.
- Drain salt cod, reserving garlic; discard thyme and bay leaf. Flake salt cod, discarding any bones and silvery membranes.
- Place salt cod and cooked garlic to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add additional minced garlic and mix on medium speed until cod is uniformly broken into small pieces. With the mixer running at medium-high speed, drizzle in the olive oil until fully incorporated. Then drizzle in the half-and-half until fully incorporated. Note: we like garlic, so I added a total of 4 cloves of minced garlic.
- Add mashed potatoes and mix just long enough to fully incorporate. Season with salt and pepper. The mixture should have a dense but spreadable texture.
- Transfer the mixture to gratin dishes and bake at 350°F for 15 minutes. Broil until brown, if desired, about 3 minutes. Note: I divided the brandade into several small gratin dishes. The first one we ate the same day we prepared them, the second one we enjoyed the next day (with reheating after being refrigerated). We froze the third one and enjoyed it a week later after thawing in the refrigerator and reheating. Alternately, you could bake the brandade in one larger gratin dish if your are serving it to a group.
The result was everything I hoped for. The spread has lots of texture but is smooth, warming and garlicky. The fish tastes more salty than fishy, much like like crab does, and I think even reluctant fish eaters would enjoy this dish. We loved it warm from the oven spread on toasted slices of baguette.
2014 Domaine Maby La Fermade Lirac — light yellow in the glass with generous oat hay, melon and dusty earth aromas. Rich flavors include citrus, melon, dried hay and wet-rock minerality. This wine has juicy acidity and at the same time a bit of weight to it. It is substantial, long lasting and complex. 14.5% abv. $20
This delightful wine is made from a blend of Grenache Blanc, Viognier, Clairette and Picpoul. Vinification took place in stainless steel and the wine does not go through malolactic fermentation. That great body is contributed by the Clairette. This wine knocked my socks off. It was so delicious I almost couldn’t focus on the brandade — which was also delicious.
I have to thank the knowledgeable staff at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant for helping me find this wine. I went into the store looking for a Costières de Nîmes white wine, but that was not to be. We kept looking, trying to find something from a neighboring area, and found this delightful wine. What great find! Now I am curious to try the red wines from Domaine Maby.
Lirac is an AOC located in the southern Rhône, just a 45 minute drive northeast of Nîmes. The relatively small AOC (only 1,900 acres planted to vines) appears to be a region of contrast — not well known but noteworthy. The noteworthy part comes from the fact that Lirac is where the original effort to protect the origin of wines produced in the area began. Wine barrels were branded with the letters CdR to identify its origin, Côtes du Rhône. When Lirac was granted AOC status in 1947 it was the first AOC to make red, white and rosé wine in one appellation. Who knew?
Karen MacNeil, in her book The Wine Bible, doesn’t list Lirac as a notable appellation in the Southern Rhône, but she does note the fact that it is likely one of the areas where the European phylloxera epidemic began. A dubious honor.
Wow! The Brandade de Morue was everything I expected and more. It was warm, rich and flavorful with a wonderful texture and richness. Flavors of the ocean mixed with garlic, it may sound odd but it works.
The Domaine Maby La Fermade paired perfectly with the richness of the Brandade. The wine itself is rich and flavorful, so it stood up to the flavors in the food perfectly without clashing. This is example of a pairing that is almost too perfect. I don’t know which I enjoyed more, the food or the wine. I just know I enjoyed seconds of both!
Please have a look at the comfort food and wine pairings below. They sound delicious too!
- Cindy of Grape Experiences shared Wine and Comfort Food: Adler Fels Chardonnay and My (New)Favorite Grilled Cheese Sandwich
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla posted her Kick Ass Mac’N’ Cheese and Kung Fu Girl Columbia Valley Riesling
- Lori of Dracaena Wines wrote about Comfort Food with a Side of Wine
- Jill of l’Occasion is Cookingat Home: Affordable Bordeaux & Homemade Pasta
- Jade of Tasting Pour contributed her recipe for Croque Madame and Treveri Brut Prestige #winePW
- Wendy from A Day in the Life of the Farm made us feel warm and cozy with Mushroom Stroganoff with MarkhamSauvignon Blanc
- David of Cooking Chat explained his Roasted Root Vegetable Soup and Wine Pairing
- Michelle of Rockin Red Blog is Finding Comfort in Food and Wine
- Lauren of The Swirling Dervish made us want to visit warmer weather for Winter Comfort Food forThose 80 Degree Days
- Gwendolyn of Wine Predator is thrilled to
give us her ideas for Valentine’s Day: Share a Special Red Wine PairedWith Comfort Foods with Your Sweetheart
- Sue of Palatable Pastime shared her notes for Rigatoni with Bolognese Sauce
We will be chatting about our wine and food pairings on Saturday morning, February 11, at 8 am Pacific Time. You can join the conversation by following #winePW. We would love to have you join us!
For a list of upcoming and past Wine Pairing Weekend events, please visit David Crowley’s website, Cooking Chat. Wine Pairing Weekend was David’s bright idea. Thanks David!