June 6, 2013 § 2 Comments
We’re just back from our family holiday to Southwold on the Suffolk coast. I went with intentions of cooking lots of the wonderful fresh fish you can buy there straight from the fishermens’ boats. We did indeed eat plenty of fresh fish – crab salad with new potatoes, skate wing with black butter and capers, crispy battered fish and chips, flavourful fish stew with French bread – but embarrassingly this was all eaten in Southwold’s many pubs and restaurants.
Shamed, as we prepared to drive home on Saturday morning, we called in at Samantha K’s fish shack on Southwold’s Blackshore harbour, to pick up whatever looked most tempting. That turned out to be a lovely piece of cod, from a fish caught on the tiny fishing boat Laura K and landed the evening before, its grey-green mottled skin a thing of beauty.
Back home that evening, I cooked one of my favourite fish recipes, Cod with Cabbage, Bacon and Peas from Gary Rhodes’ 1994 cookbook “Rhodes around Britain”. The cod is skinned (on reflection this isn’t necessary) and briefly seared in a hot pan before being finished in a hot oven. It’s served with mashed potato and a butter-enriched broth containing pieces of smoked bacon, onion, shredded green cabbage and peas. It’s a perfect dish for late spring combining all that’s good about fish pie with the lightness of a flavoursome broth and new season green vegetables.
I still haven’t found an entirely satisfactory fish cookery book – I get a little bored as they descend into encylopaedic lists of uncommon fish species (am I really likely to come across a walleye, pompano or porgy on my local market stall?) or obscure definitions (pelagic, epipelagic, demersal and the like…). My favourite fish recipes are dotted about here and there in different books, clippings and folders.
When deciding what to do with my lovely piece of cod it was a close run thing between the Gary Rhodes recipe and one from Simon Hopkinson’s best book, coincidentally also from 1994 “Roast Chicken and Other Stories”. This recipe requires the cod to be poached and served with braised Puy lentils and a punchy salsa verde. I’ve included it as a second recipe here as it sounds so good and I don’t want to forget about it.
Recipe for cod with cabbage, bacon and peas
Adapted from a recipe in Gary Rhodes’ “Rhodes around Britain”.
4 smoked back bacon rashers, rinded and cut into strips
2 onions, finely chopped
25g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
600ml chicken stock (homemade or a good quality bought fresh stock rather than from a cube)
½ green cabbage, finely shredded
100g fresh podded or frozen peas
25-50g soft unsalted butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 thick pieces cod fillet, skin on, each one 175-225g
a little vegetable oil
knob of unsalted butter
1 quantity mashed potatoes made with 900g floury potatoes (Maris Piper or Vivaldi); plenty of unsalted butter, salt, pepper and a little grated nutmeg
Make sure you have all the recipe ingredients, pans and utensils prepped and ready before you begin cooking as the vegetables and fish each take only a few minutes to cook. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C fan.
Prepare the mashed potatoes and keep warm.
Gently fry the bacon and onions in 25g of the butter and the tablespoon of olive oil until soft (about 10 minutes). Add the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Cover, turn off the heat and set aside for a moment while you start the cooking of the fish.
Heat a little vegetable oil and a knob of unsalted butter in a large frying pan with a heatproof handle. When hot, put in the pieces of cod fillet skin-side down and fry for 2 minutes. Place the frying pan into the preheated oven for 3-4 minutes (170 degrees C fan), depending on the thickness of your fish.
While the fish is in the oven, bring the stock back to the boil and add the shredded cabbabge and peas and cook at a brisk boil until tender but retaining a little bite and vibrant green colour.This will take only a few minutes.
The fish will now be ready. Remove it from the oven but keep it warm while you finish the bacon and vegetable broth by whisking in 25-50g unsalted butter in pieces (the amount you choose to whisk in is up to you).
Divide the hot mashed potato between 4 shallow bowls. Sit the fish on top of the mashed potato skin side up and spoon the broth and vegetables around.
Recipe for poached cod with lentils and salsa verde
From Simon Hopkinson’s 1994 book “Roast Chicken and Other Stories”. Serves 4.
700g cod, descaled, filleted and cut into 4 pieces (leave the skin on)
water for poaching
juice of a lemon
enough salt to season the cooking water lightly (a teaspoon)
For the lentils
225g Puy lentils, washed and drained
½ chicken stock cube
1 bay leaf
1 small onion, peeled
salt and pepper
For the salsa verde
Bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
10 basil leaves
15 mint leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
6 anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon capers, drained
150ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1 lemon, cut into wedges
extra virgin olive oil
a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
First cook the lentils. Place them in a saucepan and cover with the water. Push the clove through the bayleaf and into the onion. Add the onion to the pan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Now add the stock cube (I don’t add this at the outset as salt in the cube can toughen the lentils and prevent them from softening) and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes more until the liquid has been absorbed and the lentils are tender. Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
While the lentils are cooking, make the salsa verde. Put the herbs, garlic, mustard, anchovies and capers into the food processor with a few tablespoons of the olive oil. Process for a few minutes, stopping and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula from time to time. Once the mixture is smooth, with the motor running add the remaining olive oil to the mixture in a thin stream through the processor bowl lid’s funnel. The process is akin to making mayonnaise. Season with salt and pepper once the oil has all been incorporated. Transfer to a serving bowl.
Once the lentils and salsa verde are ready, it’s time to poach the fish. Bring a large pan of water with some salt and the juice of a lemon added to it to the boil. Slide in the fish fillets carefully, bring the pan back to the boil, cover and switch off the heat. After 5 minutes, carefully lift the fish out onto a hot plate
To serve, place a portion of fish onto each individual plate with a wedge of lemon. Drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle a little sea salt and a grinding of black pepper over each piece of fish and scatter over a sprig or so of parsley. Pass the lentils and salsa verde separately.