Baked Cod with Salsa Verde + Colourful Summer Salad

February 4, 2011 § Leave a comment

E: Hi everyone. So I’ve recently started to watch Iron Chef: America (thank you, Joanna), and have come to the realization that a lot of what I cook is rather, well, safe. I tend to make things that (almost) cannot fail:  simple soup, chili, curry, things my mother makes, things with lots of spices that other people have already measured and catalogued, things I’ve made before. It isn’t so much that everything I cook is easy, but more that most of my dishes aren’t really experiments. For example, risotto takes a bit of attention to get right, and I usually spend a good 30 to 45 minutes hovering over the stove, but there are so many things you can throw into rice that are guaranteed to be delicious that it is almost too easy.

quite the looker

So, in the interests of increasing my general competence at putting together recipes and of having fun and challenging myself in the kitchen, I intend, time permitting, to continue to make dishes like this one. It isn’t really hard in any sense, and it doesn’t take that long either (with the occasional assistance of another pair of hands, I had the whole thing on the table in an hour, start to finish). What it was, at least for me, was an experience. It included some new-to-me foodstuffs, some new cooking techniques, and a couple last-minute saves; and it resulted in a finished product that, though not perfect, was quite exciting and worth every minute I spent preparing it. I will note, in the ingredients, changes I would consider for the next time, and you can skip to the end if you want to read my thoughts on what was successful and what was not.

To make things less confusing, I’ll give the main dish up here and the side will be down near the bottom.

Baked Cod (to serve four persons):

1 pound cod fillet (consider trying some other fish too, swordfish might work well)
drizzle of vermouth
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to cover

Salsa Verde (roughly based on this recipe):

8 medium-sized tomatillos, shucked
1/2 to 1 c. onion, chopped
2 serrano chiles, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
2 tsp dried oregano (or 1 tbsp fresh, chopped)
heaping 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 & 1/2 tsp salt
water to cover vegetables in your (small) pot * (see note later)

First, preheat your oven to 350F.

While that is happening, start preparing things. Wash your cod and set it in a baking dish. Drizzle with some vermouth, about 2 tbsp of olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Make sure you get some oil underneath so the fish doesn’t stick to the pan.

freshly-washed cod

Then set that aside, waiting for the oven, and get to washing your vegetables. Pay special attention to the tomatillos, which tend to be sticky when they come out of their husk. Chop up your onion (I’m guessing about 1/3 of a medium-sized onion:  I used a red one because I wanted it for the summer salad). Remove the seeds from the chilies if you want the sauce less spicy or more subtle (I left them in, more on that later), and chop those with the garlic. Wash and chop your cilantro, and then throw the everything for the salsa into a small pot.

it already looks great

*Note: water is a problem for this dish. I used close to 2 cups of water, because I was blindly listening to the original recipe, which meant that while my salsa blended easily it was also far too watery. I used a fine mesh sieve to strain out much of the water, which left me with something of a pretty good consistency. You can see in my finished pictures, by the way the salsa verde spreads, that I should have tried sieving it again, but it wasn’t bad. If you don’t have such an object, you need to be very careful with how much water you add. I’d consider even chopping the tomatillos up, so they take up less space, and adding only as much water as you need to get everything to be mostly covered.

Anyway, start that water-vegetable-spice mixture boiling, turn it down to a simmer, and let it simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the tomatillos are tender.

just about done cooking

Consider starting the fish in the oven right about when you start cooking this sauce. Bake it for 25 to 35 minutes, or until flaky but still moist and tender. The timing will depend a lot on how thick your cut of fish is.

Note: If you are making the side dish, start cutting up the vegetables for that right when the tomatillos go on the stove. And get ready to cook them by starting another small pot of water boiling on another burner.

When the tomatillos are ready, transfer everything from the pot into a blender (you can try removing some of the liquid if it looks like you have too much) and blend up your salsa verde.

blended . . .

Strain it if necessary. You can see that I had quite a bit of liquid to remove from mine.

salsa verde + water in the background

When the cod is done, take it out of the oven and serve with the salsa verde.

Side: Colourful Summer Salad

So, this is a fun side dish that could also be a main course for a light lunch. The instructions here make a fairly large mixing-bowl-sized heap of salad that should serve as a side for about 6 to 8 persons, and probably would serve 3-4 with a decent, lunch-sized salad portion.

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced, blanched
2 carrots, julienned, blanched (or uncooked, if you like)
1 hannah yam, thinly sliced, simmered (consider using 2 yams, 1 gets a little lost)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 to 1.5 c. corn, fresh or frozen and cooked just until warm
juice of 1/2 lime
salt & pepper for seasoning

Start a small pot of water boiling on the stove. You are going to need this for the blanching.

Cut up all the vegetables in their requisite ways, and get ready. I had things chopped in the order above, so I blanched them in that order too. If you are going to do that, I suggest being ready with a large mixing bowl set beneath your colander. Then when a vegetable is done, you can strain it quickly, catching the hot water and returning it to your pot to heat up for the next one. If you want to be really professional with the timing, you could throw everything in together (yams first, carrots about 5 minutes later, onion about 10 seconds later, and take it all out right away), or if you have a strainer you can put chopped vegetables in, dip into the boiling water for the right amount of time, and then pull out leaving all the water behind, use that. I used the transfer-the-water-back-without-spilling-or-burning-yourself method.

briefly cooking some carrots

If you are following me, you will proceed thusly: blanch the onions (put into the boiling water for ~5 seconds, mine were a little soft at around 10). Put the water back in the pot on medium-high heat. When it is up to a boil again, simmer the carrots for about 10 to 15 seconds (I did this mostly because raw carrot makes my lips and mouth itch and sting, so if you can get away without this step do so). Return the water. Simmer the thinly sliced yams for about 5-6 minutes, or until soft. Your time will vary with the thickness of the cut.

If you are cooking frozen corn, you can heat that up in some fresh water, since it doesn’t take much water and will heat up quite quickly. If you are using fresh, cook briefly and cut it off the cob.

Put all the vegetables together in a bowl. Throw in the chopped cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste. Throw the corn on top when it is ready, and squeeze the lime juice over everything.

the salad, before stirring

Toss/stir/mix everything up, and serve. Garnish with some fresh cilantro leaves.

So, my final thoughts on everything. The salad was great, but I included my instructions to make it better. It could have used some more textural variety, so leaving the carrots raw and using fresh corn (which is snappier than frozen) would have added some more pop. Another yam wouldn’t go amiss either, as it has a pleasant softness and mildness that provides a background contrast for the more vocal vegetables. But the taste was spot on:  fresh, crisp, and it surprised everyone with how complex a flavor was created from such simple ingredients, with no tricks.

The salsa verde is spicy, and fantastic, but I haven’t had it many times in my life so I couldn’t tell you how authentic it is or how it matches up to other recipies. The fish also was excellent, the preparation really highlighting the subtle flavor of the cod, accenting it without getting in the way. However, this is where things get a little hairier. The three don’t meld seamlessly. Each provides something the other lacks, but it isn’t a totally harmonious union. The cod adds mildness, warmth and subtlety to the really powerful salsa, and the salad provides a crisp, cooling relief from the spice. But there is something between the three that doesn’t quite fit, with the salsa verde overpowering each of its companions if not used sparingly.

I’d make this again, but I’d try a new combination:  a different fish, something with a bit more strength and pungency, could go perfectly with the salsa verde and some more robust vegetables. Or, I’d make the cod and the salad together, but do something else for the sauce. I think the dish, as it stands, is wonderful and tantalizing in each piece, but doesn’t quite hold a unified theme the way it should.

some visual excitement

In any case, enjoy. And if you solve the mystery of what fish to use, or if you disagree with me entirely, let me know!


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