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Cynthia Stone: Gone fishing or fishing gone

Cod Meuniere may sound like it’s fancy, but it’s easy to do at home.
Cod Meuniere may sound like it’s fancy, but it’s easy to do at home. - Cynthia Stone

The cod fishery and whether we have one is up for debate again. At least this year we'll be able to take home a couple for the table. If you aren't planning to catch one yourself I hope you have family and friends to bring you a fresh fillet or two.

We can’t mourn the loss of another tradition just yet but I’m all for celebrating by making the most of every bite while we still can.

Cod Meuniere

Don't be put off by the name of this recipe. Yes, it's French. Yes, it's a classic. But no, it's not hard to do at home. The original version featured sole but I think cod is perfect.

The basis of this dish is bringing three simple flavours together in perfect harmony—cod, butter and fresh lemon. It is essentially pan-fried fish dressed with a browned butter vinaigrette, so here is the place to use your freshest fillets.

Allow about ½ pound of fish per serving.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 lbs. cod fillet, skinned and deboned, cut into 4 serving-sized pieces
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
1 tbsp. unsalted butter

Meuniere Sauce:

1/4 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp. chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, leaves only

Whisk together flour, salt and pepper and place in a large shallow dish. Dry cod with paper towels and dredge in flour mixture, carefully coating each side then shaking to remove the excess.

Heat oil and butter in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Carefully lay the floured fish in the pan, away from you so you don't splash yourself with hot fat. Fry until golden on one side, 3 or 4 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet. Don't move it around or keep lifting it up. Using two spatulas, carefully flip the fish and cook another 2 minutes on the other side. Remove from pan and set aside.

To make the sauce, wipe out the pan and add the butter. Heat over medium until it bubbles up and starts to brown. Immediately stir in lemon juice and parsley. Swirl around a couple of times and pour right over the fish.

Top-of-the-line Cod Chowder

This isn’t the first chowder recipe I’ve shared and I hope it won’t be the last, but this is the version that showcases the flavor of cod without reservation. You trot this one out to impress the unimpressible. I would happily serve it to my most discerning dinner guest and expect nothing but compliments.

Salt pork is traditional and, I think, the best choice to flavour this hearty soup, but you can leave it out. Bacon is one possible substitute but the smoky note can overpower the delicate fish so I can't recommend it. All butter or a mixture of butter and olive oil would be a good alternative.

If you have your own fish stock and it is rich you can leave out the first steps that infuse flavour from the thyme, bay leaves and parsley in the soup broth. If you use bottled clam juice or a combination of clam juice and chicken or vegetable broth I would definitely keep that front-end infusion.

Making your own stock is not difficult. Brown up some onions, celery and carrots in oil and butter. Add fish heads, fins, bones, shrimp shells, and any other bits you have—not salmon or other oily varieties, though—and cover with cold water. Add salt and pepper, but not too much because you want to control that in the final soup, and simmer together for 45 minutes or so. Strain and you have fish stock.

This is a big pot of chowder with lots of fish and will serve 8 to 10 people easily.

½ cup salt pork, cut into ¼-inch dice
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 medium yellow onions, finely diced, divided
1 large stalk celery, thinly sliced
1 medium carrot, diced
8 cups fish stock
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2 fresh or 4 dried bay leaves
1 large bunch fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, stalks and leaves divided
4 medium-sized yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs. fresh cod, filleted and bones removed, cut into 2-inch chunks
1 lb. fresh or frozen and thawed scallops, halved if larger than bite-sized
1 lb. fresh or frozen and thawed peeled and deveined medium-sized shrimp
1 cup whipping cream

Over medium heat, render the salt pork in a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot. Continue to cook until golden brown. Remove cooked scruncheons and set aside.

Add the butter and half the onions and cook until soft but not brown, 5 or 6 minutes. Remove onions and set aside. You’ll add it back later because you want to see onion in a good chowder.

Add remaining onion, celery and carrot to the pot and fry until golden brown and soft. Add fish stock, thyme, bay leaves and parsley stalks to the pot. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer 60 minutes. Strain and discard the solids.

Add potatoes and reserved softened onions to pot. Bring back to a boil and simmer about 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender. Mash a few pieces against the side of the pot to thicken the mixture slightly and cook together another few minutes.

Reduce the heat to low and add salt and pepper. Add cod, scallops and shrimp and cook over lowest heat possible for 5 minutes, then turn off the heat. Gently stir in the cream and taste for salt and pepper. If you have to reheat do so carefully—once the cream is in you don't want the pot to boil. Stir in reserved chopped parsley leaves.

Warm the scruncheons in the microwave or in the oven for a few minutes and spoon on top of the bowls to serve.

Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. E-mail questions to her at cynthia.stone@nf.sympatico.ca.

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