The codfish lays 10,000 eggs, the homely hen lays one .

The codfish never cackles to tell you what she's done and so we scorn the codfish, while the humble hen we prize, which only goes to show you that it pays to advertise .

Anonymous

Almost no one has a kind world for the cod. Overfished and underappreciated, the cod swims in the shadow of salmon, halibut, swordfish and tuna. And although dried salt cod has a secure place in culinary history as well as cookbooks, it appears infrequently on American tables.

Still sold in little wooden boxes, salt cod is not usual supermarket fare. You have to seek it out in fish markets or specialty stores.

Perhaps people think it salty and strong. Treated properly it is neither, and a strong point in its favor is that you can have fish for dinner whatever day you like -- the salted variety waits, safely preserved. European and North American fishermen for centuries have salted their catches of the big, white-fleshed fish to keep it on the voyage home. This changes the character of the cod and the French even give it a separate name, morue (fresh cod is cabillaud ).

There are 10 times as many recipes for the dried version as for the fresh in almost any comprehensive French cook book. Throughout Portugal, and in many parts of Spain, salt cod is always on the menu, in private homes as well as restaurants.

The price of salt cod has risen sharply in recent years, and now retails between $3.50 and $4 per pound. Nevertheless it remains a good buy. There is no waste, since it is skinless and boneless, and a pound serves four generously. Excellent whole fillets may occasionally be purchased in good fish-markets, but the best comes from Nova Scotia or Canada, packed by the pound in small wooden boxes. If held in the freezer, thawing is not necessary before soaking.

It is a simple fish, at its best with simple treatment. To prepare the cod for any of the following recipes, soak it in water to cover at room temperature for 24 hours, changing the water three or four times. Bring the fish slowly to a boil in fresh water, drain immediately and pat dry on paper towels. There should be no trace of salt left and the texture should be similar to fresh fish except for a slight tendency to shred.

Salt cod is also available at most Giant Food stores.

PICKED-UP CODFISH

(4 servings)

1 pound salt cod, prepared for cooking

3 tablespoons butter, unsalted

3 tablespoons flour

1 1/2 cups hot milk

Salt, fresh ground pepper

Fresh ground nutmeg (optional)

1 beaten egg

4 baked potatoes, or 2 cups hot mashed potatoes

Over low heat, in a heavy saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour, and cook stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Do not let this roux color. Add the hot milk, all at once, stirring rapidly with a whisk. In a minute or two the sauce will be smooth and moderately thick. Season well.

Cut the prepared cod in bite-size pieces and add it to the sauce. When everything is very hot, stir in a beaten egg, and serve over the baked potatoes, which have been split open and fluffed with a fork, or over a serving of mashed potatoes. A bit of fresh chopped parsley is nice to garnish.

SPANISH STYLE SALT COD

(4servings)

1/2 cup olive oil

1 pound salt cod, prepared for cooking

Flour for dredging

1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1/2 sweet red or green pepper, coarsely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

4 to 5 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 1 large can Italian pear tomatoes, drained and chopped

Oregano, salt, fresh ground pepper to taste

1 pound small new potatoes, unpeeled, sliced 1/2 inch thick, or 1 pound waxy, all-purpose potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick

3/4 cup dry white wine

A handful of black olives for garnish

Chopped fresh parsley

Cut the prepared salt cod in 1-inch squares and dredge in flour. In a large saute pan heat 1/2 cup olive oil until very hot but not smoking. Add the floured pieces of salt cod and saute very rapidly over medium high heat, turning them frequently. When crisp and light brown, remove to drain on a paper towel.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the remaining oil, and in the same pan saute the prepared onions and pepper over low heat for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomatoes, along with two pinches of dried oregano, a bit of salt and fresh ground pepper to taste. Simmer this sauce over medium heat for about 5 minutes or long enough to thicken it slightly.

Oil a baking dish (earthenware by choice) and arrange the slices of potato on the bottom. They should fit in overlapping layers. Place the fried salt cod pieces on the top of the potatoes. Cover with the tomato sauce and add the white wine to the dish. The liquid should not quite cover.

Bake at 375 degrees, loosely covered with foil, for about 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Remove the foil before the end of the cooking time to allow some of the liquid to evaporate. Garnish with black olives and chopped fresh parsley and serve immediately.

PORTUGUESE SALAD

(4 servings)

1 pound salt cod, prepared for cooking

3 medium-size Idaho baking potatoes, boiled without peeling, and still warm

3 hard boiled eggs, sliced

1 bunch green onions, sliced thin, or 1 small red onion, sliced thin

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

4 tablespoons good wine vinegar

1 cup fruity olive oil (can be cut with vegetable oil if desired)

Tomatoes, cut in wedges and kept at room temperature

Black and green olives

Chopped fresh parsley

Put the prepared salt cod in fresh water, bring to a simmer, and cook very slowly for about 10 minutes. Drain and flake the fish. Peel the warm potatoes, and slice them about 1/4 inch thick, into a bowl. Add the flaked salt cod, hard boiled eggs, onions, a pinch of salt and plenty of fresh ground pepper, and toss with the vinaigrette, made from mixing together the vinegar and olive oil. Do not add all the vinaigrette at once as it may be too much. See how much of it is absorbed by the potatoes before adding more. Taste -- you will undoubtedly need more salt. Some finely chopped garlic may be added if desired.

Heap on a pretty plate, surround it with tomato wedges, olives and sprinkle with a little parsley. Do not refrigerate before serving.

BOUILLABAISSE OF SALT COD

1 pound salt cod, prepared for cooking

4 cups fish stock, or 2 cups bottled claim juice and 2 cups water

1 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup olive oil

2 leeks, diced, using the white part only

2 medium yellow onions, diced

3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced

Handful fresh fennel leaves, chopped, or 2 teaspoons dried fennel seed

1 can (1 pound), pear tomatoes, drained, or 1 pound fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped

Salt, fresh ground pepper to taste

Dash or two of cayenne pepper

Slices of french bread, fried in garlic-flavored oil until light brown

Cut the prepared salt cod in small pieces and set aside.

In a 3- or 4-quart kettle, heat the olive oil. Add the leeks, onions, garlic and fennel and soften without coloring, over low heat and stirring frequently. This will take about 15 minutes.

Add the fish stock, or clam juice and water, the wine, and the tomatoes, cover, and boil briskly for about 10 minutes.

Add the salt cod and cook over moderate heat for about 10 minutes more. It is important that the mixture boil to keep the oil from separating from the rest of the soup. Taste for seasoning, adding salt, fresh ground pepper and the cayenne if you like. Serve immediately, ladling the soup on the prepared slices of bread, which have been placed in the bottom of soup bowls.