In this house, despite occasional failed campaigns to curb the habit, we are confirmed meat-eaters. When I say meat, I mean farm animals, who walk upon the land, as opposed to fish (who swim in the sea). This is true to the point that, however much I try to subvert it, whenever I think ‘what shall we have for dinner?’, the words chicken, pork, lamb and beef whizz though my mind, the constellations of their meal possibilities orbiting around them.
At some point after our first child moved onto solid food, we resolved that it’d be good to start eating more fish, something that was almost entirely absent from either of our cooking comfort-zones. When you become a parent, you’re bombarded from all sides with advice about food; Relatives, the government, magazines, newspapers (broadsheet and tabloid), TV shows and the stupid, stupid Internet all have an opinion on what it is you’re doing wrong. In fact, not only do they have an opinion, they have every possible opinion, meaning that whatever perfectly sensible direction your instincts and common sense lead you in, some bright spark will be there, waiting, to help you agonise over where you went wrong. All this leaves a parent feeling a huge compulsion to feed their children in a particular way, but never totally knowing why, which brings us back to fish: something, protein, something, omega 3, something, fatty acids, something, superfood. Through the fog of all of it, you know eating more fish is good, and so you cling to that as evidence that you’re doing something correctly.
Anyway, what this has resulted in is us taking an interest in learning to cook a piece of fish, which has provided some welcome colour to our general diet, particularly since moving to Stockholm, where your average supermarket fishmonger provides fare notably more inspiring than the sad eyed (if the thing has any eyes at all; Swedes seem more comfortable in general with a nose-to-tail appreciation of food) specimens at your local Tesco. This recipe is rather reminiscent of a much, much better put together version of something you might have eaten for school dinners. The taste of the cod with lots and lots and lots of parsley took me back instantly to childhood and seemed to exude an inextricably British air, which was at once enjoyable and kind of strange; simultaneously naff and intensely nostalgic.
At Nigel’s suggestion, I paired the cod recipe with his potato salad in an anchovy and parsley vinaigrette, which made a marvellous, if slightly well-sauced pairing. I started by sticking some new potatoes on to boil (on the basis that a potato, like a pot of rice, takes AGES to become unpalatably cool, and so should generally be the first thing to go on if you’re making a meal that takes under an hour) and preparing their dressing, crushing some rinsed anchovies to a paste under the flat of a knife, and mixing that with a generous slug of everyday extra virgin olive oil, some red wine vinegar and a copious fistful of flat-leaf parsley (after living in East London and shopping daily at the Turkish grocers on my road, I find it inconceivable that I’d ever use curly parsley again in a recipe like this) in a bowl, ready for the addition of the warm drained potatoes just before serving time.
As the potatoes cooked, I sliced a large fillet of cod (from the animal’s back, and line-caught apparently, for the good of my eternal soul) into three pieces, popped them in a buttered roasting dish, poured over a glass of white wine, and dotted the lot with little cubes of butter before placing it in a hot oven for 15 minutes. Whilst these things cooked, I threw together the simplest of simple green salads (baby spinach, watercress and a finely chopped spring onion, dressed lightly with the nearest bottle-end of vinaigrette) then made a sauce from the reduced white wine and cod juices, with a generous helping of butter whisked in and an even bigger handful of chopped parsley to finish.
As we ate, I was reminded of the miraculousness of white fish and cod in particular; how it has perfect, relief-map layers which, when cooked properly, at the very least persuasion fall whole from the fillet. To find a piece of meat that that performs a similar function, one would have to procure something from a reputable farmer, who had slow-reared their animal, fed it on grain and, if you were feeling particularly flush, provided it with beer, and possibly even Mozart Symphonies to listen to as it drank it, whereas a cod from the sea, broadly speaking, is a cod from the sea. Sustainability issues aside, that is a great leveller, where food is concerned, and not one that had particularly crossed my mind before.
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