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New England Cod Cakes
by Charlie Burke

Jack Potter, President of the New Hampshire Farmers’ Market Association and I,
along with our wives, Eva and Joanne, try to get away for “day trips” during the
winter. The distance and durations of these are limited by the needs of Eva’s
goats and our three Labs, and our trip to Walpole, New Hampshire this week
tested these limits. Our purpose was to visit Merve Stevens and his wife, Betty.
Merve, a wise and
truly gentle man is well known in the Monadnock region and was a founding
member of the Board of Directors of our Association. He remains a sage and
valued advisor to us,always offering new ideas for grants and partnering with
like – minded organizations.

After our visit - we arrived to find Merve’s kitchen table covered with hundreds
of recipes for organization, which I chose to see as proof that he and I are
kindred spirits - we had lunch at
Burdick’s Restaurant in Walpole. Merve had
introduced us to this casual but sophisticated restaurant which serves a great
variety of French/Continental style dishes yet seems right at home in this
quintessential New England town. Of course, that fact that they make and serve
some of the finest chocolates we’ve ever tasted and feature a version of hot
chocolate that, alone, would put any restaurant on the culinary map puts a meal
here over the top.

I chose a cod cake with greens and “pommes frites” for lunch and was
reminded how good this standby can be. The version at Burdick’s uses fresh
cod and contained red pepper, red onion and a touch of cayenne, yet still is true
to this meal’s humble past. For many years large fleets from Europe, primarily
from Portugal, fished off the coasts of New England and Canada and harvested
huge catches of cod which was salted and brought back to Europe. In the days
of the Clipper Ships, salt cod was important to New England’s economy and
was exported to the Caribbean and beyond. Salt cod remains a staple on
Portugal, Spain, Italy and Mediterranean France and is still widely available in
New England.

Try to find thick slabs of salt cod in fish markets; these are superior to the
smaller pieces commonly sold in wooden boxes. This recipe uses salt cod, but
fresh cod can be substituted. The choice of flavorings, vegetables and herbs can
vary according to your preferences, but this recipe is for traditional cakes.

For 4 – 6 cakes:

1 pound salt cod
1 ½ pound Yukon gold or russet potatoes
1/3 -1/2 cup chopped onion or scallion
1 ½  teaspoons dry mustard
3 eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons soft butter, plus extra for frying
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
Chopped herbs such as parsley or dill (optional)

Soak salt cod in a large volume of water in the refrigerator
for 12 - 24 hours. Change water several times. Place fillet into a 3 -4 quart sauce
pan with a large volume of water, bring to a boil and turn heat down so that
liquid is simmering. Cook for 10 minutes, remove from heat and leave in water
for 10 – 15 minutes. Rinse under cold water and break into flakes.

Boil potatoes in salted water until done, drain and return to pan over moderate
heat for 2-3 minutes to evaporate excess moisture. Mash as for mashed potatoes
and keep warm. Saute onions or scallions in a small amount of butter until soft.

Mix fish, potatoes, butter and onions together using a fork, then mix in eggs,
mustard, pepper and herbs, if using. Form the mixture into cakes and
refrigerate for up to 6 hours if not cooking immediately.

Heat enough butter to coat a frying pan, preferably non stick, and cook over
medium heat until each side is well browned and the cakes are heated through.
Serve immediately with slices of lemon, tarter sauce or mayonnaise mixed with
lemon juice and capers. Smaller cakes can be served as a first course, while
larger cakes, served with salad and bread, make a great lunch or light dinner.  

About the author:  An organic farmer and avid cook, writer Charlie Burke is the
vice president of the New Hampshire Farmer’s Market Association and helps
run the Sanbornton Farmers' Market. Along with his wife, Joanne, he grows
certified organic herbs, greens and berries at Weather Hill Farm in Sanbornton,
The Heart of New England
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