Salt Cod Brandade
1 pound skinless, boneless salt cod
1 cup milk
1 large thyme sprig
1 bay leaf
Fresh black pepper
1 pound potatoes, peeled, cut in 1-inch cubes
6 large garlic cloves, peeled
Salt and pepper
⅓ cup olive oil
grated lemon zest, to taste
½ cup crème fraîche, or greek yogurt
3 tablespoons cold butter
½ cup coarse dry bread crumbs
Rinse salt cod well and rub off any salt. Soak in 2 quarts cold water. Drain and change water every few hours (an overnight soak without changing is fine). Total soaking time should be at least 8 hours.
In a medium saucepan, heat milk plus 1 cup water over medium-high heat. Add soaked salt cod, thyme, and bay leaf. Adjust heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook until fish flakes easily, about 15 minutes. Remove fish and hold at room temperature.
Meanwhile, in another pot, cover potatoes with water and bring to a boil. Add garlic cloves and a good pinch of salt. Drain potatoes when they are soft, about 15 minutes, reserving cooking liquid and garlic.
Cut cooked garlic cloves in a small saucepan and crush with a fork. Add olive oil and heat over a medium flame until quite warm to the touch. Set aside.
Put potatoes in a large mixing bowl. With your fingers, flake cooked salt cod on top. With a potato masher, roughly blend potatoes and fish. Drizzle in warm garlic oil and mash again. Add cayenne to taste and lemon zest. Stir in ½ cup crème fraîche and beat well to combine. Beat in about ½ cup cooking liquid to lighten mixture so it has the texture of soft mashed potatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning — it will probably need salt and pepper.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Use 1 tablespoon butter to grease a low-sided 1-quart baking dish or pie pan. Transfer brandade mixture to dish and smooth with a spatula. Bake until golden and bubbling, about 20 minutes.
(I bake mine in miniature cast iron skillets)
Serve with crusty grilled French bread for dipping or spreading.