This week’s challenge was an open-ended fish challenge, i.e., make fish tasty for someone who doesn’t particularly care for it. I have been told I will see more of these challenges as the year progresses. This first time, I decided to play it somewhat safe with a crunchy baked whitefish.
The results? My husband thought this dish had a lot of flavor and that I rescued fish from its major flaw: blandness. He gave it a 7/10, but placed it below the last two dinners, because it was still fish. I devoured my portion; I am a fish eater, and I thought everything on this plate worked particularly well together. My toddler gave it a thumbs down, though, and even went so far as to spit his fish out on the table; he did inhale all the spinach, though, which was definitely a big surprise!
I chose cod fillets for this meal, but any similar whitefish would work. Halibut is another good choice for diners who aren’t wild about fish.
Cod is easy to cook and not too fishy of a fish, so it pleases almost everybody. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Although I didn’t want to fry it, I knew that encasing it in a crunchy topping would make the fish much more palatable. But I needed more. I consulted a few cookbooks and finally settled on combining the cooking technique from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home wild cod recipe with the flavor suggestions from a similar recipe in High Flavor, Low Labor by J.M. Hirsch.
The recipe called for the fish to be slathered with a “secret sauce,” a mixture of ketchup, mayonnaise and mustard. That may sound a little gross — it did to me — but once I tasted it and realized it was a pour man’s approximation of remoulade sauce, I knew I was on to something. I added more flavor to the panko crumb topping: lemon zest, parsley and Parmesan cheese. If you are not familiar with panko bread crumbs, they are traditionally used in Japanese cooking. I chose them because they are light, crunchy and brown well. I recommend that everyone makes them a pantry staple.
Finally, I paired the fish with some favorite sides so nobody went hungry: garlicky wilted spinach and mashed potatoes. I almost always serve mashed potatoes with fish, particularly if there aren’t many fish lovers at the table. Those who find fish too light can fill up on yummy potatoes, and besides, I like to mix the flaked fish in with the creamy goodness. I’ll post my tried-and-true recipe for mashed potatoes tomorrow.
Crusted Cod with Wilted Spinach
Yields: 4 servings
For the fish:
- 1 pound cod fillet or similar whitefish fillet
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Olive oil
- 2 tablespoons mustard
- 2 tablespoons ketchup
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 2 tablespoons parsley, minced
- Lemon wedges to serve
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Cut the cod fillet crosswise into 4-6 even portions. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Blend together the mustard, ketchup and mayonnaise in a small bowl. Brush this mixture on each side of each fillet. In a shallow dish, combine the bread crumbs, cheese, zest and parsley. Dip each fillet on both sides into the bread crumbs, pressing down to make sure they adhere.
Heat a generous amount of olive oil in an oven-proof pan large enough to hold all of the fillets over medium-high. When the oil is very hot, add the fillets and let brown for 1 minute. Carefully flip them and let brown 1 minute more.
Transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking the fillets, which can take 10-15 minutes, depending on their thickness. The fillets are done when they are opaque all the way through and flake easily. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.
For the spinach:
- 8 ounces baby spinach
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Olive oil
While the fish is cooking, wash the spinach and dry it. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a pan over medium with the garlic clove. Add the spinach and toss until it wilts, about 2-3 minutes. Serve alongside the fish.