cod and potatoes
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What to do with a big piece of a big white fish? Cod, haddock, hake, pollock and ling – flat expanse of boneless flesh on unappetisingly leathery skin, often as not more expensive than sole. The most common destination for them is into the deep fat fryer via batter – and I’d maliciously agree that this kind of fish is bland enough to have to be brutally fried.
There’s no point in delicately herbing, marinating or teriyakiing those specimen – they are immune to flavouring that make a bass or bream an enchanting feast. They won’t be sashimied or ceviched, let alone tartared. Not too sure why, probably because the texture would be wrong – not firm enough. And let nobody try throwing that big fillet on the barbecue or grill: I have once and had to forever scrub the racks afterwards.
The only good thing about bland fish is that it makes a good comfort dish. Stick it into a fish pie, smother it with mornay, make it into fishcakes. Or bake it with lots of sliced potatoes, just like here. The dish creator, Mark Bittman of NY Times Cooking, claims it’s beloved of his young daughter (children like bland, it figures). And I immediately thought that it was awesome – deconstructed fish and chips without the need for vats of boiling oil, batter or the all-permeating smell.
Of course the potatoes will have to be cooked through and crisp, almost finished, before the cod lands on them. And in actual fact I sometimes take a look at them and think they might well go without that cod…
cod and potatoes
- 4 or 5 (2 pounds) medium potatoes
- a small head of garlic, separated into cloves but unpeeled
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 3 tbsp. melted butter
- salt and black pepper
- a small bunch of fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
- 600g (1½ pounds) cod, haddock or hake fillets, skinned
- For the fish seasoning:
- 1 tsp ground sumac
- 1 tsp coarse or flaked salt
- 1 tsp dried tarragon
- 1 tsp black onion seeds
1. Wash and scrub the potatoes; peel them or not, depending on preference. Slice them thinly (2mm/ 1/8in.) into a bowl, on a mandolin if you have one. Toss them with the oil and half the butter, add unpeeled garlic cloves; season generously with salt and pepper and rub the thyme sprigs into the potato slices.
2. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas 5. Place the potatoes on a baking dish about 20 x 30cm and bake for 40 minutes, tossing them about halfway through so they cook evenly.
3. In the meantime grind all the fish seasoning ingredients in a pestle and mortar. Cut the fish fillets into individual portions and sprinkle with the seasoning on both sides. Leave them in the fridge until the potatoes have cooked.
4. Remove the dish with potatoes from the oven and switch the heat over to grill, medium high. Sprinkle the potatoes with half the chopped dill. Place the fish portions on top of the potatoes and drizzle with the remaining butter. Place the dish under the grill for 10-15 minutes until the fish is opaque all the way through and flakes easily. Check whether the potatoes are not burning and stir the slices about gently if that’s the case.