Monday, December 5, 2011

Tomatoed Cod on Fennel with Sautéed Spinach

Mostly people don't realize it, but when you're out for Friday Night Fish-Fry in St. Paul (or anywhere), you're probably having cod.  It could be haddock or pollack, and we can almost be sure it won't be halibut, though that would be so tasty.  Served up with boatloads of tartar sauce and a tower of fries with cole slaw, it's nothing if not very, very beckoning.   Add to that the number of people who've traveled to the UK and are now hooked on "Fish and Chips" and you have a ton of folks walking around thinking this is one of their favorite meals. And way too often here, the fish is "all you can eat."

But get us in the grocery store or at the fish monger, and cod doesn't stand out.  Darker, sexier catches like salmon and tuna prevail and cod hasn't much to say.  I mean, what do you do with cod?  (What do you do with a lot of fish, in fact.  Whenever I'm in line to buy fish, the other customers are always asking the clerk how to fix this fish.  I've nothing against the clerks, but they are not often great or accomplished cooks.  If I can gently and gracefully chime in, I do.  Of course, if you know me, you know I'm neither gentle nor graceful.

Back to cod.  If you're not lathering it up with oniony mayonnaise, it needs another sort of bath in which to soak up all the flavor it's missing.  Here, I wrap it up in a tight foil pack (it gives off a lot of liquid)  on top of sautéed fennel.  I also include onions, garlic, dill, and celery, gracing the whole deal with several slices of tomatoes, a hefty dose of salt and pepper, pumped up with a healthy pinch of crushed red pepper. Optional:  Garnish with some chopped kalamata olives just before serving.

While it roasts in the oven for fifteen minutes, I sauté a big mess of spinach and garlic.  Could you change the vegetables?  Why not?  Just make sure you pre-cook them a bit as fifteen minutes isn't a long time in the oven.  Should you decide to make two suppers, the second one (out of the foil, naturally) can heat up quickly and easily in the microwave- just to take the chill off. One other tidbit:  cod's reasonably priced (I got mine on sale at WHOLE FOODS for $9.99 a pound) and, because it's cut to order fish, is perfect for the solo cook.  If you'd like more food, add some rice to this meal.  There's plenty of "gravy."  Start the rice first.  It will hold, covered, for a half hour.

Cook the fennel, onions, red pepper...

Place the veg on foil and add the cod and tomato.  Season.

Wrap well and bake for 15 minutes.  Meantime, cook some spinach with garlic.

Cod with Vegetables in Foil  Serves 1 (or 2 if you want leftovers)

This meal is prepared in three brief stages: 1.  Cook the fennel mixture in a skillet, 2. Bake the cod in the oven on top of the fennel, and 3. Saute a pan of spinach with garlic to serve with the cod.

While the recipe appears lengthly, read it all the way through first and you'll see this meal is done in under a half hour.  Less if you're a quick chopper or throw things in the Cuisinart!

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Part 1:  Cook the fennel, etc. (This is enough for two pieces of cod)
  •  1T olive oil
  • 1 fennel bulb, fronds removed, peeled, sliced in half, core removed, and sliced thinly into half-moons  (Can sub 1 cup sliced celery for a total of 1.5 cups celery)
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup sliced celery
  • 1/4 cup sliced fresh red sweet pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried dill
  • sea salt and freshly ground white (or black) pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
In a large sauté pan or skillet, heat over medium the tablespoon of olive oil.  Add everything but the garlic and cook until fairly tender, 5-10 minutes.  Add the garlic during the last 1-2 minutes to prevent burning.  Season well with salt and pepper.  

Part 2:  Bake the cod with the tomatoes and fennel 

  • 1 or 2 4-6 oz cod filets
  • 1tsp oil for each
  • 3-4 slices tomato for each filet
  • sea salt and freshly ground white (or black) pepper
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper for each filet
For each serving:  on a rimmed sheet pan, place a 2ft length of aluminum foil.  At its center, spoon
half of the fennel mixture into a rectangle about 3"x6" and place a piece of cod on top of it.  Drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil on top of the fish and rub or brush it around so the filet is covered evenly.  Season well with salt and pepper and sprinkle with a bit of crushed red pepper.  Place the sliced tomatoes on top of the fish, overlapping if you need to. Fold the foil over the fish and vegetables to create a tidy package and seal tightly as this fish puts off a lot of liquid.  Hence the sheet pan.
Bake about 15 minutes,  and remove sheet pan from oven. (Make the spinach as the fish bakes.) Carefully open foil packages.  The fish is done if it's firm and opaque.  Let sit 1-2 minutes before serving with spinach. (see below)

Part 3:   Sauté the spinach while the fish bakes ... (Makes enough for two)

  • 10 oz fresh spinach
  • 1T olive oil
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • pinch freshly ground nutmeg, optional
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Pinch of fleur de sel or kosher salt  
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice for each serving 
  • 1T chopped kalamata olives, optional, for each serving
 In a large, deep skillet, drizzle in the olive oil and tip to coat the bottom evenly.  Heat over medium heat and add spinach.  Season well with salt and pepper nutmeg, if desired.  Cook, stirring, over medium heat about three minutes, adding garlic during the last minute.  Set aside until the fish is done.

To serve, remove fish and vegetables from foil with a slotted spatula onto each plate. Use plates with a deep rim or even pasta bowls.  Add some spinach alongside and drizzle all with lemon juice. Sprinkle with the fleur de sel (chunky sea salt) or kosher salt and give the whole shebang a nice topping of freshly ground black pepper.  Optional:  Garnish with a little chopped kalamata olives.

Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

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