This Easy Dip Is the Sophisticated Seafood Appetizer You've Been Looking For

A mere three ingredients form the backbone of creamy and delicious brandade.

Chef John's Brandade
Photo: Chef John

You may not think to combine salt cod, potatoes, and cream, but these three humble ingredients are the backbone of a classic Provencal dish called brandade. Similarly, Italians refer to this same dish as baccalà mantecato and Spaniards would recognize this same dish as brandada de bacalao. Whatever you want to call it, this dish is essentially an emulsion of salt cod, olive oil, and cream. It is oftentimes flavored with garlic and fresh herbs, and it is typically (but not always) made by folding in fluffy mashed potatoes.

Now, a salt cod emulsion may not sound like the most appetizing creation off the bat, but you're just going to have to take my word that this creamy dish is truly something special. Put this out at your next get together and your guests are going to be just as impressed as they are satisfied. It's a great party snack or finger food for everyone to enjoy.

The most difficult part of making brandade is working with salt cod. If you've never purchased salt cod before, you can ask your local fishmonger if they carry it, or you can buy a couple plain cod fillets and let them sit in a few cups of salt for 24-48 hours, rinsing away the salt after it's done curing. If you buy salt cod, you'll need to let it soak in a water bath (changing the water a few times) for at least 24 hours beforehand (salt cod usually comes with package directions that advise how to soak it properly). You can also purchase pre-soaked salt cod which eliminates any prep that you might need to do. Salt cod is, as the name implies, incredibly salty, so it's important to make sure that the fish isn't going to be over seasoned and ruin the balance of the brandade.

Once the salt cod is done soaking, it's time to cook it. Place the fillets in a medium saucepan and cover with water, milk, or a mixture of the two (the more dairy you use, the creamier the brandade will be). Add aromatics such as garlic cloves, fresh thyme or rosemary, bay leaves, and black peppercorns. Let the cod simmer until it gently flakes, about 10 minutes. Reserve the garlic cloves. Flake the cod and discard any silver skin or bones.

Whether you want to include potatoes in your brandade is entirely up to you. It adds a starchy component to the dish and mellows out the strong seafood flavors a bit. If you're new to making or eating brandade, I would recommend including potatoes because it's a cheap and easy way to lean into your first time enjoying the dish. You can opt for a 2:1 or 1:1 cod to potato ratio — the more potatoes you add, the more mellow the fish flavor will be. As you're simming the cod, cook the potatoes in cold, heavily salted water until they're fork tender, then mash them with a ricer, food mill, or electric mixer.

Next, add the cooked fish and reserved garlic cloves to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl paired with your hand mixer). You can use a food processor for this, but the blade on a food processor will cut the fish into very small pieces which is not how traditional brandade is made. You can also do this by hand, but it's going to require some elbow grease in order to create the emulsion.

Gradually stream in olive oil while the mixer is running on low speed until an emulsion begins to form. Slowly increase the speed of the mixer, and finish off the emulsion with half and half or heavy cream. Although you can skip the dairy, I'd highly recommend including it as it adds a luxurious texture and enrichens the flavor. Gently whip in the mashed potatoes (if using), being sure not to overmix. Season with fresh lemon juice, fresh herbs (parsley and dill), salt, and pepper. You can put the dish as-is, or pop it into an oven-safe dish and heat it up under the broiler until it's golden brown and warmed through. Serve the brandade with crackers or toasted bread, then dig in and enjoy. Fish, cream, and potatoes — who knew?

Hungry for more? Explore our full collection of Seafood Appetizer Recipes.

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