Suzanne here, with a heriloom recipe! Can anyone remember every detail of Christmases past? I remember the colorful-and-always-tangled tree lights, the carrots left out for Santa’s reindeer, and the endless hours (okay, minutes) we spent lying awake, waiting for Mom and Dad to get up so we could race down to see what Santa brought us.
The truth is, my adult Christmas memories are better then those of my childhood. I can’t pinpoint the exact year, but best Christmas Eves started for me during college. I would return home from school, tired from exams, ready to see old friends, and enjoy some home cooking. Even in my 20’s, I’ll admit I still got as excited as a six-year old when Christmas Eve rolled around. I did enjoy opening a few well-thought out and much needed gifts from M&D. Mostly, though, I enjoyed the carefully planned and exquisitely executed eve menu at my house.
Cocktail hour was the best: my mom’s perfect codfish balls paired with Dad’s vintage champagnes was, and is, my favorite thing to eat and drink all year.
Now, back then, it was Mom who worked tirelessly in the kitchen, soaking, mashing, assembling, and frying these delicate fish delights. Fast forward a decade. Graduation, marriage, kids, and retirements changed the location and the chef in charge of the celebration, but the menu? Hardly a change at all.
Christmas Eve present finds my father and me in the kitchen, preparing Mom’s codfish balls together. Most years, we’ve had great success; other years, the codfish balls have been a flat-out failure. It’s a mystery; we have analyzed every technique, ingredient, and temperature from the original recipe, scouring every detail to see where we might have gone wrong. Unfortunately, 2015’s codfish ball batch was a fail.
So, New Year’s resolution Numero Uno for 2016: Solve the codfish ball mystery. Even trained chefs have kitchen disasters, but I’m not giving up on a family heirloom recipe. I engaged the help of another instructor at the school to work through the recipe once more.
Lori and I spent an afternoon in the CU Test Kitchen (eat your heart out, Mr. Kimball!) We decided to make two recipes side-by-side: the Tierney recipe and Lori’s codfish balls, made from an old New England recipe that have never failed her. By comparing ingredients and cooking techniques, we hoped to find out where my recipe was failing.
We discussed each technique and piece of equipment used and recorded every step of the process. The only real difference between the two recipes was the preparation of the fish itself: Lori simmers the reconstituted fish and potatoes together, and I boil my potatoes separately from the fish, which I steam. In the end, every single codfish ball was delicious – not one ball blew up (that was the biggest problem I had this past Christmas Eve). The secret: once formed, the codfish balls must be refrigerated before frying! Here is a detailed recipe for you to try:
Tierney’s Famous Codfish Balls
1 pound salt cod (I use Cristobel brand, in the wooden box)
4 medium russet potatoes (about 2 Cups mashed)
4 Tablespoons soft butter
1 large egg
1 teaspoon salt
Canola oil, for frying
Prepare the cod: In a large bowl, cover the salt cod with cold water. Cover with cling wrap and refrigerate from 12-24 hours. Change the water every 6- 8 hours. At the end of the soaking time, the fish should be soft and malleable.
Pour 1” water into a large skillet. Place bamboo steamer over the water. Arrange the cod in the basket. Cover and steam over MEDIUM heat for 10-12 minutes. It should flake very easily. Let the cod cool completely.
Make the potatoes: Peel and dice the potatoes. Put the potatoes and enough cold water to just cover them in a medium saucepan. No additional salt will be necessary. Bring to a boil over HIGH heat; lower the heat and simmer until fork tender, about 12-15 minutes. Drain and return the potatoes to the hot saucepan. Mash with a potato masher until almost smooth – they can be a little chunky. Measure 2 Cups of potato in a bowl; reserve the remainder. Cool completely.
Make the codfish batter: Whisk the egg in a small bowl. Use your fingers to break the codfish into small chunks; add the fish to the mashed potatoes. Add the egg, soft butter, and salt to the potatoes. With a potato masher, mix the fish/potato mixture together. The mixture will be slightly lumpy. If the mixture seems to runny, add additional reserved potato.
Form the fish/potato mixture into 2” balls (no bigger than golfball size). Place the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Now this is the critical step: these must be refrigerated for at least 45 minutes before frying!
Cooking: Pour ½” canola oil into a 10” cast-iron or other heavy-duty skillet. Place over MEDIUM-HIGH heat and heat to 365OF. Using a slotted spoon to gently lower 4-5 codfish balls into the hot oil. Don’t crowd them and don’t touch them! Let them cook for 3-4 minutes until golden brown. Use your spoon to gently roll the codfish balls and continue to cook and additional 3 minutes or until desired doneness.
Remove the codfish balls from the oil with a slotted spoon. Drain and paper towels. Serve immediately with tartar sauce.