Cooking With Auntie Jane

Instructions For Surviving on Your Own in the Modern World

Month: May, 2013

Dominican Bacalao (Salted Cod Stew)

Easy Caribbean Fish Stew Over Rice

Easy Caribbean Fish Stew Over Rice

I learned this delicious recipe back in the early 1970’s from my wonderful sister Ann. Back then, she was a Peace Corps volunteer in the city of Barahona, in the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean island whose main export these days seems to be Major League baseball players. Anyway, in those days this was a very cheap fish which Norway and Canada exported to poor countries like the Dominican Republic, where refrigeration and protein were hard to come by. Unfortunately, nowadays, the great North Atlantic codfish has been overfished, and salt cod sells for about $15 a pound. That’s well out of the price range of someone living in a palm board shack in Barahona, of course. But it is available to people like me who frequent Whole Foods. You can find it in a wooden box, or as a whole salted fillet, near the seafood counter.

This recipe is easy to make. The only drawback is that you have to boil the cod for 30 minutes to soften the fish and remove enough of the salt to make it palatable — and that boiling process is pretty smelly. Make sure you turn on the hood above your stove and if the weather allows, open the windows and kitchen door.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound dried salted codfish
  • 1 onion, chopped (you can use only half an onion if you don’t like them)
  • 1 green (and/or sweet red or yellow) pepper, chopped
  • 1 16 oz. can of tomatoes (the last time I made this I only had a 32 oz. can and it worked fine)
  • About a quarter teaspoon dried oregano
  • Pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon of vinegar (red wine, cider, balsamic, just not white vinegar)
  • 1 or 2 eggs (I have never used two eggs. I don’t like an eggy taste, but this is a flexible recipe)

Instructions:

Wash the cod under running cold water and pull out any obvious bones. Some cod will have more bones than other cod, and it’s worth looking for, and extracting, the bones during this washing process. Some little bits of fish may come off while you are washing. You want to retain those little pieces to boil.

After a good washing (about 5 minutes) put the fish in a large sauce pan with a tight-fitting lid, cover with cold water, put the lid on and turn the fire on medium high and wait for the water to boil. This will boil over easily and make a smelly mess of your stove, so don’t walk away! Once the top of the pan is hot and you hear boiling inside, turn the heat down to low and set a timer for 15 minutes.

When the timer rings, carefully drain off the water from the fish (Be careful! There will be steam coming from the pan.) and then cover the fish again in cold water and repeat the process of bringing the water to a boil and turning the heat down. Set the timer again for 15 minutes.

If you don’t change the water in this way, the end product will be almost too salty to eat. Trust me. I’ve tried it.

After a total of 30 minutes of boiling, the fish should come apart in bite-sized chunks. Drain the fish well in a colander and set aside.

In a large sauce pan, heat a tablespoon (or so) of olive oil and saute the onion until it’s translucent (don’t let it burn!). Add the cooked codfish, then the canned tomatoes and stir. Add the chopped green pepper, the oregano, then the vinegar. Break an egg or two over the mixture and stir in, letting it cook down. The egg acts as a thickener, which you don’t even notice.

Serve over rice. Be sure not to add salt to the rice during preparation. This is salty enough!

OMG! My Yogurt Expired Three Days Ago!

Okay, my friends, let’s take a few minutes to talk about kitchen safety

Not quite past it's due date, it was a little tart, but not bad. Oh, did I say I'm not great at fridge cleaning-out?

Not quite a year past it’s toss date. A little tart, but not bad.

plus some medical stuff. In daily life, some things are super important, and others are just corporate CYA.

Basically, all of this is common sense, but some of it is stuff your mom (i.e. me) has to tell you.

First, expiration dates on food and over-the-counter medicines are put there to avoid lawsuits, not to tell you when food or medications have gone bad.  By which I mean, they are artificially early, making you throw out a lot of good food and medication when you don’t have to.

For instance, yogurt. It’s basically spoiled milk already because it’s made with bacteria (various strains of Lactobacillus and their relatives), so what’s going to make it spoil? Unless there’s thick green mold growing on the top, which only happens if you’ve already opened it, yogurt will keep for months unopened in the fridge. If there’s watery stuff on top, just stir it in, there’s nothing wrong with that. (And if you absolutely need some plain yogurt for a recipe, and there’s only a little mold, you can scrape that off. The green stuff is only penicillin, so it’s not going to hurt you.)

Eggs will keep for a month or more in the fridge. Ignore the date on the carton. If you are whipping egg whites, you want super fresh eggs to get the highest rising whites, but otherwise, don’t worry. If you are concerned that your eggs might not be good anymore, crack one open and give it a sniff. A bad egg smells REALLY bad. If you got your eggs at the farmer’s market, and were laid the day before you bought them, then you can probably keep them three months in the fridge. The older the egg is, the stiffer the yolk will be and it will stick to the wall of the shell if it’s really old. Eggs can harbor Salmonella, which are really bad bacteria so always make sure you cook them well.

Canned goods last for eons. A swollen can, of course is no good and should be disposed of gently, to avoid an explosion. In this day and age, you shouldn’t see a swollen can unless it’s been punctured somehow. Someone who is inexperienced at home canning can get into trouble. However, I don’t know enough about home canning or it’s pitfalls, so I won’t comment here except to say that I’ve never had anything but delicious jams and pickles and grape juice from the home canners I have known.

You’ll know when fresh fruits and vegetables go bad, because they get wilted, or slimy, or soft or just nasty looking.  Wilted celery and parsley (as long as it’s not slimy) can be chopped up and put into soup, because the taste is still there. Try to use fresh produce as fast as possible to preserve taste and nutrition. Don’t throw out a peach or nectarine just because it has a brown, even slightly moldy spot. Just cut the spot out, and you’ll find the stone fruit is probably incredibly delicious.

I leave tomatoes on the counter because, while they last a bit longer in the fridge, they lose flavor in there, and modern tomatoes are tasteless enough without robbing them of what little they have. Strawberries also lose flavor in the refrigerator. I try to cut them up and use them almost immediately. If I’m going to refrigerate them, I wash them and individually dry the berries and put them in a plastic bag with a paper towel inside the bag.

Now, let’s switch gears to the medical world. Over-the-counter medications like acetaminophen can easily go a year beyond the expiration date. I used to know a nurse who worked with a charity that specialized in gathering out-dated drugs from pharmaceutical firms and hospitals to take to developing nations where they were life-savers. Five years is a little much, but I’ll take cough syrup that has slid a few years past its date if I’m feeling miserable and don’t want to go out, and I’m still here to tell the tale.

Now let’s talk a little about America’s obsession with germs.

While it’s important to wash your hands and your counters and cutting boards while you’re cooking, especially when dealing with raw meat, and I certainly wash my hands ridiculously frequently in my job as a nurse, I think Americans have become positively crazy about germs. Of course, television feeds (created?) this germophobia, trying to make us think that we should be afraid of the germs on our floors and in our toilets, so we will buy ever more environmentally irresponsible cleaning products.

There is no avoiding microorganisms. They are everywhere, and many of them are good for you and necessary for life. There is nothing wrong with you and your kids getting a bit dirty now and then. If you aren’t exposed to an array of microorganisms, you can’t build up a good immune system. So relax and stop carrying around all those wipes and all that alcohol hand cleaner. Soap and water is just fine.

And please, oh please, don’t demand an antibiotic if the doctor says it’s probably a viral infection and it’ll pass without treatment. Antibiotics are useless against viruses, and using one when it’s not needed could well hurt in the long run. You and your children will survive — this is not the eighteenth century.

While we’re on the subject of microorganisms and the days when easily preventable diseases routinely decimated families, let’s talk about getting babies immunized. The New York Times has a fantastic article about vaccines and the diseases that they have virtually wiped out over the last 200 years or so. I’m putting a link to it here. www.nytimes.com/ref/health/healthguide/esn-vaccinations-ess.html.

One statistic I gleaned from the article, which I will leave you with is about diphtheria, a childhood disease we no longer see in this country thanks to the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus) shot. During the break-up of the Soviet Union, however, the immunization system there fell apart. During that time not so long ago, the Red Cross estimates that there were 100,000 cases of the disease, and that it killed 5,000 children.

If we suddenly had an epidemic of that proportion in this country, sickening and killing thousands of children, there would be an uproar for a cure. Well, there is a cure. Don’t get it in the first place. Immunize against it.

Phew! Well, that’s it. I’ve gotten down off my soap box for now. Relax, have fun.