The fish on our table

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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From all reports, the food fishery has been a rousing success so far this year. I hope you are enjoying your time on the water safely.

Perhaps it has something to do with this spectacular summer we are experiencing, but the excitement over a taste of fresh cod has certainly made dining at my table a guilt-free pleasure.

Cod baked with black olives, garlic, lemon and thyme

Let’s start easy, both in flavour and technique, with this simple but elegant recipe — the delicate texture and subtle taste of fresh cod shines through. As is often true, the biggest mistake you can make here is overcooking the fish. When it is barely opaque in the middle it is cooked. It should not look dry, either inside or out, and it should not shrink or roll excessively.

The skin left on will help maintain the shape of the fish, but it is flabby and best removed before serving. Skinned fillets are easier, I admit. If your family flatly refuses to eat olives, then leave them out — they add a briny note that punches up this dish, but do what you must.

If you are fortunate enough to have wonderful fresh fillets, then have everything else ready first — you must wait on it, not the other way round.

4 fresh single-serving size cod fillets

1/4 cup chopped black olives, pits removed

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp. each lemon juice and olive oil

1/2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, minced

1/2 tsp. sweet paprika

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

Lay fish in a single layer in a baking dish. Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour on top. Swish the fillets around to coat them on both sides. Cover and bake at 400 F for about 12 to 15 minutes, depending on the thickness — just until fish flakes in the middle. Serve immediately with the juices from the roasting dish. This fish is especially good with crisp grilled vegetables on the side.

Cod baked with fennel in tomato sauce

I have rediscovered fresh fennel this year, and what a natural pairing it is with cod. Here’s the clean, fresh recipe that will sit an extra minute or two without suffering too much, so it’s perfect for a summer party. If you are lucky enough to have an extra bit of fish to put in the freezer it will work well in this recipe, but reduce the wine by half because the cod will weep from your having made it wait.

If you’ve never peeled tomatoes, it’s not as hard as you think. Score an X into the bottom with a sharp knife — you just want to pierce the skin. Drop in boiling water for a few seconds, cool and the skin will peel right off. Cut tomatoes in half crosswise and squeeze gently to remove the seeds — the tip of your finger will easily scoop out any stubborn ones. If you’d rather you can use a small can of diced tomatoes, drained.

1 fennel bulb

1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced

2 tbsp. butter or margarine

1 tbsp. olive oil

3 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced

1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, minced

1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 to 6 serving-sized cod fillets

1/4 cup each chopped fresh basil and Italian flat-leaf parsley

1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Wash and drain any feathery foliage still attached to the fennel bulb. Chop finely and set aside. Cut off the stalks flush with the bulb and discard them unless you are making soup later. Cut the bulb right down the middle as you would a head of cabbage and cut out the core, again, as you would for cabbage, then slice as thinly as you can. In an oven-safe dish, fry, along with onion, in butter and oil over medium heat until tender and starting to brown. This will take seven or eight minutes. Add tomatoes, red bell pepper, garlic and red pepper flakes and cook together just until fragrant, a minute or two. Add wine, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 30 minutes.

Snuggle the cod into the sauce and bake, covered, at 350 F for 30 minutes or until just cooked through. Stir in basil, parsley, lemon juice and reserved fennel fronds. Serve on a bed of bowtie pasta, alongside rice, or in bowls with crusty rolls to sop up the sauce.

Pan-fried cod with scruncheons and capers

Yes, this one is excessively eclectic, but the combination of our cultures in this dish is sublime.

I used to kid myself and allow a pound of fillets for four people but, being more realistic, most people will eat nearly twice that if the fish is fresh — judge yourself accordingly.

1/2 cup diced salt pork

1 cup flour (for dredging)

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-1/2 lbs. fresh cod fillets

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp. capers, rinsed, drained and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tbsp. butter

Render out the pork until crispy and brown. Set scruncheons aside, reserving the fat. Combine flour, salt and pepper and dredge fillets. Place oil in a heavy skillet and add two tbsp. of the reserved pork fat. Fry cod until golden on both sides and just cooked through — three or four minutes a side. Remove and set aside. Add onion to pan and fry until tender. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add capers, broth and lemon juice and bring to a boil. Reduce by about half then remove from heat. Add butter and swirl until melted. Serve fish with sauce on top and pass the scruncheons.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in

St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

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