This poached cod recipe uses big bold Mediterranean flavors–Mandarin orange, fennel seeds, saffron, and garlic–to make an intensely delicious poaching broth. It’s a simple and far healthier alternative to fried fish. I like it better than fish and chips myself.
A Knife and a Work of Art
Before diving into the recipe today, I want to note that received an incredible Christmas gift from my mother and father this year. I have a cousin, Tim, who makes hand crafted carbon steel knives from scratch. I mean from carbon steel blanks. He shapes and tempers the steel, creates incredibly intricate handles out of exotic materials, with ornate rivets and what not. They’re works of art. Mostly they’re sportsman style knifes, but in the past year I’ve discussed with him the possibility of trying to make French style chef’s knives. Well, much to my surprise I just received one! Photo is above. It looks like it’s monogrammed with my name, but that’s the brand mark. My family name, which Tim and I share.
Poached Cod is Better Than Fish & Chips
Cod is one of those “not so fishy tasting” fish, which is the kind of fish that people who don’t like fish like. Does that make any sense at all? Sounds ridiculous but it’s true.
Cod is a flaky white fish with a mild flavor. It’s super popular for making the UK’s famous fish and chips. Fish and chips properly made is absolutely delicious, of course. Sadly though, the breading and deep fat frying turns an otherwise extremely healthy fish into something that’ll eventually give you a heart attack. Poached cod is a better way to go. Trust me on this.
Poached cod, or any kind of poached fish, is all about the poaching broth. Breaded and fried fish? It’s got texture. It’s got crunch. That’s what makes it fun to stuff into your piehole. Flavor? Meh. It’s pretty good, but you probably want to dip it into a sauce that tastes good. Otherwise, let’s face it, it’s kind of dry and boring.
Poached cod doesn’t have that texture and crunch that makes you want to stuff it into your piehole. But it makes up for this by cranking the flavor intensity up to beast mode. That makes you want to drink it up, pour it down your throat, and sop up the broth with your neck tie or the tail of your shirt.
Of course, for this to work you can’t just poach your fish in a bit of wine or a splash of milk. You need to spice that shit up. Turn it into a soup you’d drink even if you didn’t have any cod lying around. You want it so intense that putting the cod in there turns it down to a tolerable level.
That’s what I did here. Anyone who has read this blog semi-regularly knows that I’m a huge fan of the Provencal flavor combination of orange-fennel-saffron. Mmmmmm! I especially like it in tomato based preparations. And that’s what I used here, only I used Mandarins!
But you don’t have to follow my lead here. A lot of folks don’t like licorice flavored things like fennel. If that’s you, no sweat. Instead of orange-fennel-saffron, you could go classic Italian lemon-rosemary. You could go cinnamon-tangerine-mint. You get the idea. Experiment. Use flavors you like. Just go big and bold.
Mandarin Orange-Fennel Poached Cod! Yes!
- ⅓ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 Small Yellow Onion, peeled and diced
- ½ Teaspoon Kosher Salt
- Pinch of Saffron
- ½ Cup Dry White Wine
- 3 Cloves Garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 1 ½ Teaspoons Fennel Seeds, ground finely in a mortar and pestle
- ½ Teaspoon Ground Piment d’Espelette (or Aleppo Pepper)
- 2 Mandarin Oranges, zest and juice (about ½ Cup)
- 8 Oz Canned Whole Tomatoes, juices drained, seeds removed, and quartered
- ½ Teaspoon Dried Lemon Thyme
- ½ Cup Water
- 1 Pound Cod, cut into 4 fillets
- Ground Black Pepper to taste
- Heat olive oil over medium low heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and salt and allow them to cook very slowly until translucent. You don’t want to brown them at all.
- While the onion is cooking, add the saffron and the wine to a small bowl to make a tea. Set aside.
- Add the garlic, fennel, and piment d’Espelette. Continue to cook on medium low heat until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add the mandarin orange zest and juice, the tomatoes, the thyme, the saffron tea, and the water. Turn heat up to medium until liquid begins to gently simmer.
- Add the pieces of cod to the simmering poaching liquid. Add ground pepper to taste. Poach the cod until cooked through--about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Divide cod and poaching broth among 4 shallow bowls to serve.