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blog-roast cod

When: Saturday, May 25, at the start of the long Memorial Day weekend. Where: Whole Foods, Union Square. Eddy, my favorite man behind the meat counter, threw a doleful glance at his array of kebabs, steaks, and ribs. “It’s too cold and rainy to cook out,” he said. “So far, everybody’s been asking for meatloaf mix and pot roasts.” Hmm. I snagged some top blade steaks—they cook in minutes under the broiler—and sidled over to the fish counter.

Although I couldn’t face a beef chuck roast or other braising cut, and we’d made  meatloaf the week before, something hearty and warming was definitely called for. Clam chowder, maybe? There were no big, meaty quahogs to be found, but there was some pretty cod from Iceland. That fishery does have some issues, but according to Monterey Bay’s Seafood Watch iPhone app (it’s free! download here), it’s still a “best choice” if hook-and-line-caught. For now, the cod stocks around Iceland are in better shape than the collapsed fisheries in the western Atlantic. As you may know, the situation there is dire.

Still, these fillets were bright, translucent, and smelled of the ocean—in other words, they practically whispered “buy me.” I fell hard, especially when I recollected a recipe from Heston Blumenthal, the chef-owner-gastrowizard at The Fat Duck, in Berkshire, England. As far as cookbooks go, he’s best known for the stunning Fat Duck Cookbook (Bloomsbury, 2008), but the one that’s dearest to my heart is his first, called Family Food: A New Approach to Cooking and written for home cooks who want to introduce their children to the kitchen. Blumenthal is the father of three, and his voice is so genuine and down-to-earth, the book is a great pleasure to read, whether or not you have kids. “Take your children around a supermarket, greengrocer, farmers’ market, or farm shop,” he writes. “Ask the fishmonger to show them how to recognize fresh fish. They will be more likely to listen to him (no offence!).”

I came by a new Penguin edition of the book in 2004, when the poet and writer Cynthia Zarin reviewed it for Gourmet. We squeezed in one of the recipes—pot-roast cod—with some notes to help out American cooks. It’s a terrific (and quick-cooking) one-pot wonder, just right for a chilly, rainy spring evening.

Pot-Roast Cod

Serves 4

Adapted from Family Food: A New Approach to Cooking by Heston Blumenthal with an assist from Gourmet

When I put this together, I came up a bit short in the onion department, so I supplemented with part of a fennel bulb that was kicking around in the fridge. Not exactly a Blumenthal-caliber innovation, but it sure was good.

1 pound small potatoes

4 bacon slices

1 pound onions, thinly sliced

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme

1¼ pounds cod fillet (¾ inch thick)

¼ cup dry white wine or vermouth

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1. Put the potatoes in a pot and cover with about 2 inches cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until barely tender when pierced with a fork; drain. (They’ll finish cooking in the oven.)

2. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 325°. Working on the stovetop, cook the bacon until crisp in a large ovenproof heavy skillet (cast-iron is ideal). Drain the bacon on a paper towel–lined plate and when it’s cool, roughly chop.

3. Cook the onions and garlic in the bacon drippings until softened and a little browned; stir in the thyme. Add the cod and potatoes, cover the skillet, and transfer to the oven. Cook 15 to 20 minutes, until it’s done. (How do you tell? Cut into the fillet with a paring knife and take a look: it should be just opaque.)

4. Transfer the cod to a warm plate and add the wine and butter to the skillet. (If the mixture is a little dry, add a splash of water.) Cook, stirring, over medium-high heat a few minutes to deglaze the pan and make a sauce. Place the cod on top, scatter with bacon, and serve at the table.

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