From César: Recipes from a Tapas Bar by James Mellgren and Olivier Said, Ten Speed Press, 2003
This is one of the oldest dishes on the César menu. It has garnered legions of fans, and the few times it has come off the menu there has been such an uproar from devotees that it immediately went back on. Despite many American diners’ lack of familiarity with the main ingredient, salt cod is a much-loved commodity in Europe, so there are many versions of this dish in Spain and around the Mediterranean.
1 pound salt cod fillet, soaked in water for 2 days, changed daily
1⅓ cups milk
1⅓ cups water
1 bay leaf
4 cloves garlic, cut in half
4 sprigs thyme
½ yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 russet potatoes, peeled
½ cup olive oil infused with garlic, or as needed (divided)
1 cup heavy cream, or as needed (divided)
2 teaspoons dried red chili flakes
½ cup bread crumbs from day-old sweet baguette
16 slices day-old baguette, each ¼ inch thick and toasted
Drain the cod and place it in a large sauté pan. Cover with the milk and water. Wrap the bay leaf, garlic, thyme, onion, and peppercorns in cheesecloth and tie with string. Drop the bundle into the pan, bring to a simmer over low heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain, discard the bundle, and let the cod cool. Pick through the cod and remove any bones.
Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. Drain the potatoes and mash them with ¼ cup of the oil and ½ cup of the cream in a large bowl.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Slowly mix the cooked cod with the remaining ¼ cup oil and ½ cup cream just until flaky. Fold the cod into the mashed potatoes. Taste and add more garlic oil or cream if necessary. Stir in the chili flakes.
Divide the salt cod mixture among 8 individual cazuelas (terra cotta casseroles) or ramekins, and top evenly with the bread crumbs. Bake until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stick 2 toasted bread slices into each portion and serve immediately.