"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Cod cakes redux: A lot of work for bland

by Julie Tilsner on February 19, 2008

in Good Ideas Gone Bad

In as much as I have an “audience” for this blog, a lot of you have asked me with a sort of knowing wink and conspiratorial nudge, whether I don’t embellish my culinary screw ups for the sake of fodder.

To this I say, come over and let me cook you a meal. You will be underwhelmed at best, and at worst, forced to accompany me to the corner Panda Garden and pay for half the Kung Pao chicken take-out.

In other words. I still suck. I don’t make any of this up.

Take Friday night, for example. I got it into my head to try my hand at cod cakes again. The flamenco guitarist told me the right way to do it, the Andalucian way, was to make them without potato. That was the way his father had done it. I took the bait.

I found the right kind of cod, the sort they sell in a little wooden box at a big price  I bought good olives and the fixings for a salad. Since I was at the fancy store, I bought a $6 loaf of bread with walnuts and cranberries.

Through it all, I was imagining a delicious and simple tapas meal; a lovely way to kick off the weekend. When I came home, I searched the internet for a recipe that didn’t include potato. I came up with one from the Food Network’s Emeril Live show. I came up with a few others, including one in a Spanish cookbook. Every recipe offered a slightly different way of cooking the cod, so I decided to wing it.

Let’s cut right to the chase, shall we?

First, I over-soaked the cod.

Generally, one must soak salt cod in water for at least 24 hours (preferably 36) changing the water a number of times, or else the fish is simply too salty to eat.

Because I stopped paying attention around Valentine’s Day, I soaked my cod for almost three days. I didn’t think it could hurt. But I realized my gaffe after I’d cooked the stuff and found it almost entirely tasteless. I’d say like cardboard, except that I imagine cardboard has better flavor. Perhaps it’s not my fault. Perhaps I’d purchased inferior cod. I am too inexperienced in this realm to say.

Perhaps. But I bet you’ve never met someone who soaked all the salt out of the salt cod. Now you have.

The experiment went downhill from there. I didn’t have the right kind of parsley. I played fast and loose with this recipe, which I’m not even going to detail here, which was easy enough except that I’d already cooked the cod, per another recipe. Then my blender wouldn’t blend the ingredients correctly for some maddening reason that I chalked up to growing negative energy. (I realized after the fact that it’s missing a piece). The “dough” didn’t seem right, but I pressed it into little tablespoon-sized balls and dredged what I had in heavily seasoned flour, hoping to add some flavor back in. I heated the better part of a new bottle of olive oil in a heavy saucepan.

The result: Cod turds hardly worth the effort of chewing.Turdcod

Tony had arrived after sitting in traffic for two hours. L.A. traffic is a lousy appetizer, and nobody was in a good mood anymore. My kitchen was wrecked. There was very little wine. And now this.

Don’t look so glum, Tony said after trying one of the miserable nuggets. These taste pretty good, considering how bad your last try at cod cakes turned out.

The final insult. He’d ranted over how good those were at the time, since at least they had the flavor and texture of potato covering my mistakes. These wretched little mistakes were greatly inferior, and I knew it and he knew it, but he was not prepared to cop. All I could do was smile weakly and accept the platitude. At least there was salad and bread and olives to supplement. Maybe now was the time to chug the last of the two-buck Chuck.

The weekend ultimately improved, although the remaining cod turds did not, even after resting in the refrigerator overnight.

I’ve resolved to do any further experimentation in secret. And when I can bring it up to edible, I’ll unleash my efforts on those brave enough to try. In the meantime, I’m not cooking anything but pasta for the household. Everyone involved should be greatly relieved.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Seraphine February 19, 2008 at 3:09 pm

You had me at Cod Turds. I now officially love your blog.
There’s something to be said for simple fish preparation: a grill, salt and pepper and a fire extinguisher. And lots of wine.


Charcuterista February 19, 2008 at 5:10 pm

We all have days like that. Yesterday I made a Guiness cake with two and a half tablespoons of baking soda, rather than two and a half teaspoons. It foamed quite a bit and one of the chefs at work asked me what kind of nuts were in it – unfortunately none. Keep at it and it will get better…unlike those cod turds 😉


Elfini February 20, 2008 at 9:47 am

Dude! What about the fish recipes that I sent you? Try them – I promise you won’t be disappointed.


JulieR February 23, 2008 at 6:15 pm

I think “cakes” (latkes, corn fritters, etc) of any kind are tricky…maybe, you should take a break from the bacalao – it’s just too expensive, and hard to get the really yummy stuff in the US. Wait until we meet up in Spain sometime, we’ll do a bacalao tour, and then find some fantastically delicious and easy recipe to recreate. (I also happen to know you can be a very good cook and also know the mishaps are real because I have had many opportunities to cook with you….but what good fodder to write about – you certainly keep me laughing!)


Georgie Lee February 27, 2008 at 4:52 pm

This sounds like the time I cooked white fish and endive from a Williams Sonoma cookbook. An hour and a half later it was tasteless fish and even more tasteless, soggy endive.


AT February 28, 2008 at 4:13 pm

Ah, c’mon my little Flamenquita, its just a “fear of frying” as you’ve said before (remember the trauma with the
latkes?)…meantime, how about we “Go-Out” on Friday night for Cuban?


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