Wine Trail - Cook's Edition

Sautéed Cod With Potatoes in Chorizo-Mussel Broth

We like to do our fanciest meal of the week on Friday. Being adventurous we don't want to do anything we've done before (which sometimes can and has led to disaster). We started off thinking it was time for a mussel dish. They are easy and fast to cook and we've found almost always great. Casting about we came upon a recipe with mussels by Eric Ripert, chef and part owner of what is considered to be one of the best restaurants in the world, Le Bernardin in New York City. We have several of his cookbooks, Avec Eric and Le Bernardin, and have enjoyed many of the recipes. We see that he is a big fan of cod.  This recipe is more cod than mussels and together with Spanish chorizo creates a marvelously complex dish.  It isn't a particularly hard recipe, and it is so good that we'd consider making it the centerpiece of a New Year's Eve dinner (the fanciest night of the year for us).

We've made a few changes to the recipe to suit our tastes and make it even a bit easier. Much of it can be done in advance which makes it perfect for a special evening.

Fresh vs. Frozen

Forever you've heard that fresh fish is better than frozen. It may have been true. However, these days it may no longer be the case... maybe.

Fish is most definitely best when it has just been hauled out of the water. One of the best fish meals we've ever had was made in a single frying pan in Alaska. It was halibut that probably had been caught no more than 10 hours before we cooked it. Made some rice, got some fruit salsa from the grocery and fried up the fish. Stunning. But we digress..

"Fresh" fish in the groceries where we shop could be several days old if not more. It may not have been frozen, but is it really fresh?

Today seafood can be flash frozen on the boat just after being caught. That freezing is far more efficient than what happens when you stick something in a home freezer. Some say that they can't tell the difference between fresh and frozen. Maybe, but.... there are caveats.

SINTEF (Norwegian: Stiftelsen for industriell og teknisk forskning), a large independent research organization in Europe along with the Norwegian Institute of Nutrition and Seafood Research and and the Icelandic research institute Matís specifically looked at the freezing and handling of cod. You can read all about it here. Or, if you are truly into reading scientific journals, the original study is here.

They found three requirements:
Which brings us to the cod we had for our dish. It was wonderful, maybe some of the best cod we've had. Our experience with frozen cod has been dismal (though next time we'll try the thawing in water idea and see what happens). It was purchased at a store that has consistently had extremely good (though not cheap) fresh fish. In the end, whether you use frozen or fresh depends on where you get it. This dish really calls out for the very best fresh (or fresh 'tasting') fish you can find.

Now that we've gone on and on about proper freezing we can tell you that we have found that in our experience, the 'fattier' fishes seem to withstand freezing better than others. We do not include cod in that category.

Frozen Fish

Often we purchase frozen wild salmon and it has mostly been pretty good to sometimes extraordinary. The picture is Artic Char which is in the salmon/trout family. It was recently on sale and we bought a few pounds, cut it into serving portions and froze it ourselves then put it in sealing bags. It seems to work. On the other hand, our experience with frozen cod, halibut and swordfish has been pretty dreadful.

Chorizo

Chorizo

Before we knew anything about it, we thought all chorizo was a fatty, often red colored ground meat that comes as sausages, usually at Mexican markets. It is a fresh, raw ingredient that looks like red ground beef and needs to be cooked. A great ingredient, but it isn't the chorizo you want for this dish. You want Spanish Chorizo. (We make a really good burrito with chicken and Mexican chorizo covered with cheese and guacamole, but that's maybe another post someday.)

Spanish Chorizo is more like salami. It is a dried and cured sausage made from pork and pork fat. It will be seasoned with smoked paprika which makes it look really red. There are lots of varieties with different spices and can have added chile to make it a 'hot' product. For our dish, just about any Spanish Chorizo will do. Find something you like.

Spanish Chorizo is going to have a casing. It is sometimes hard to detect, but you do want to remove it.

Chorizo Casing

Mussels

There are so many different great things you can do with mussels. Cooking them takes just about no time and we've found that lots of recipes can be adapted (like we did here) to let you cook them in advance of the final preparation.

Mussels

When you buy mussels they are alive which means they have to breathe. Some stores stick them in a plastic bag and wrongly knot the bag up. As soon as we get to the car we open the bag. We also bring ice packs and one of those special insulated bags to transport them home (you could use a cooler with ice).  At home, do not store them in water. Put them in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth.

We went to the 'BIG NAME IN FISH' that is about 10 miles from us to buy mussels... once.  They immediately dumped a bunch into a bag and sent us on our way. Outside we took a quick look and found that many of them were 'open'. Open isn't necessarily bad, but can also mean they are dead. If you lightly tap the mussel and it closes then it's alive and that's ok. This was not done. We went back in, insisted on all closed mussels and never shopped there again.

The common theory is that when cooking a mussel, if it doesn't open, throw it out. But wait. According to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation this is a myth that started around 1970 and was repeated and grew until everybody believed it true.

On the other hand, this website repeats the 'rule'. IF a producer of mussels doesn't get it right, who is right? We have no clue. And why should you believe anything you read on the internet anyhow?

Before using them they should be rinsed and scrubbed clean. Remove any beards (usually you can pull them out without the shell opening) and take off any barnacles.

Garlic and Shallots: Slicing or Mincing?

This recipe calls for a certain amount of sliced garlic and shallots and a certain amount of minced garlic and shallots. We don't claim to be French chefs (or even any sort of chef) and a quick look 'round the web didn't provide many answers that made sense of the original instructions. Somebody said chewing on a sliced piece of garlic adds an extra little kick. But since the sliced garlic (and shallots) in this recipe is sautèed, then cooked in a broth, then discarded we have some trouble seeing just why they are sliced instead of minced. We figure that so long as you strain them completely with a fine mesh sieve you can go the mincing route which is probably easier.

OK. We can think of one possible reason. The shallots and garlic are used in two different points in the recipe. Mr. Ripert's recipe only lists an ingredient once. Maybe it just makes it easier to remember that you shouldn't dump all of them into the first part you are working on (something we've done more often than we want to admit), or makes your shopping list easier. Our recipe has been rewritten to show when and where multiple uses of an ingredient are employed. To us that makes the cooking session much easier.

We therefore suggest that using all minced garlic and shallots will be just fine. If Mr. Ripert happens to one day run across this post, well, we'd love to know why his recipe says what it does. We freely admit we might be missing something. We'll probably just mince everything next time.

Slice and Dice Garlic

By the way, we got sucked into trying a Kyocera ceramic knife at a local market's live demonstration. We were actually pretty amazed at how well this paring knife can make really thin slices; same with tomatoes. We can recommend it with a caveat. The thing is really sharp. We haven't gotten hurt...so far....

The Recipe

As written, this serves 4. We made a half recipe for us. You certainly don't have to be terribly exact with most of the ingredients.

Ingredients

Sautéed Cod With Potatoes in Chorizo-Mussel Broth

For the Mussels
For the Broth
For the Potatoes
For the Fish

Instructions

Roasted Garlic

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut off the top of the head of garlic such that all cloves are exposed (we find this makes it easier to extrude the garlic when cooked). Discard the top. Drizzle the olive oil over the exposed cloves. Wrap in foil and bake until soft, about 40 minutes.

Garlic 1
Garlic 2

Remove the cloves of roasted garlic and squeeze out the garlic. Sometimes you can get most of it just by squeezing the whole head. Set aside. You'll use it in the potatoes.

Garlic 3

TIP: Since for us we halved the recipe, we had 1/2 of the garlic left over. We spread it on toast and had it as an appetizer before the fish. We also had some spiced olives and some really good smoked sardines from a jar. We did say this was going to be a fancy meal

At this point you have a decision to make. If you are making the mussels and broth earlier in the day or even the day before, which we think is a pretty good idea, you don't need the potatoes yet. If you are making it all in 'real time' then you'll want to get started on the potatoes about now. We have those steps below.

Mussels and Broth

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in 3-quart saucepan. Add the sliced shallots and sliced garlic (or minced, if you read what we said above) and cook over low heat until soft but not colored, Add the wine, bring to a simmer and add the mussels. Cover and cook until mussels open, about 3 minutes. (Make sure to read about what happens if they don't open above.) Shuck mussels and reserve, covered.  Drain the cooking liquid through a fine sieve and reserve.  Clean the pan, or, of course, use another one!

We are keeping the mussels and the broth separated so that when you reheat the broth you can get it hot then add the shucked mussels. This way they'll get reheated without really cooking them any longer.

Cook Mussels 1 Cook Mussels 2Cook Mussels 3

Place 2 tablespoons of oil in what was the mussel pan (or a new pot/pan if using). Add the minced shallots and minced garlic. Sauté until soft. Add the chorizo slices, and sauté until they start to brown. Add the clam juice and reserved mussel cooking liquid. Bring to a simmer, add 1 branch each thyme and rosemary, remove from heat.

Cook Chorizo

The recipe says sautè the chorizo until it starts to turn brown. We found that with the product we were using, by the time it was turning brown it was also burning. Maybe we should have gone more slowly or maybe more oil or maybe...? In any event take care not to burn it. As it turned out it didn't taste burned in the end, but we thought it was going to be a close call. Let's just say fry them ... some. (Maybe your chorizo will act differently.)

TIP: If you want to do the mussels ahead of time, take the broth and the mussels (covered) and put them in the fridge until you need them. Reheat the broth then add the mussels. This means you can actually cook the mussels earlier in the day (or even the day before) when you bring them home from the store and you don't have to worry about keeping them alive. And you've already done about 85% of the cooking when its time for dinner!

Mussels and Broth

Potatoes

Mr. Ripert's Way: Place the potatoes in pot of salted water to cover, bring to a boil, and cook over medium heat until very tender, about 30 minutes. Drain the water.

Our Way: As we've talked about elsewhere on this site, we love to use our pressure cooker for potatoes. We cut them into pieces about 2 or 3" wide and put them in the steamer tray that came with the pressure cooker. We don't have an instant pot, but we assume it has the same stuff. We put 1 1/2 cups of water into our rather large pressure cooker. Put  the steamer tray into the cooker, fasten the lid and let it come to high steam. We cook them 8 minutes then quick release the pressure.  Since the whole process only takes about 10 minutes you have a lot of leeway in deciding at what point to cook them. Admittedly the time difference isn't all that great, but somehow we feel like we're more in control.

To finish the potatoes, Mr. Ripert has you use the same potato pot. But since we had cooked the potatoes in the pressure cooker, we opted for another, smaller, non-stick pot that meant less muss and fuss on cleanup (and we have a nylon potato masher so as not to harm to pot). So even if you did it Mr. Ripert's way, you might still consider another pot.

Add the oil, butter, parsley, and reserved roasted garlic to the cooked potatoes in the pot. Mash. Add the lemon juice and salt to taste.  Stir to incorporate everything. Set aside over very low heat.

Cook Potatoes

From the picture it looks like we added some black pepper, not called for anywhere. Force of habit. Didn't hurt! We'd probably do it again.

NOTE: We're not in the habit of using this much oil and butter in our mashed potatoes, but this is a special dish and deserves the full treatment. However, you probably could cut down on the fat if you prefer.

Cook Potatoes 2 Cook Potatoes 3

The Fish

Pat fish dry, and season with salt and pepper on both sides. It is really important to get the fish as dry as possible as you will get far better browning. Put the oil in a heavy skillet large enough to hold the fish without crowding. Place over high heat. When oil is hot, sauté fish, turning once, until golden brown.

The Fish The Fish 2

You'll notice that we've got 2 big pieces and some little ones. The cut that we purchased was about 1.1 lbs. It was also tapering a bit at the end, so we trimmed it so that the main pieces would be a bit smaller and would cook at the same rate. And, we ended up with a nice sandwich from the little pieces the next day.

The Fish 3

NOTE: A lot of the cod we see around is pretty thin. You want to get nice thick pieces. Too thin and the fish will be overcooked by the time you have gotten it nicely browned. So how long to cook? The original recipe said 4 to 5 minutes a side. On our stove and in our (really nice carbon steel that gets really hot--you could also use cast iron, or of course whatever you've got) pan that was way too long. One of the worst things you can do in cooking is to overcook fish. We strongly suggest a good instant read thermometer (our favorite being the Thermapen from Thermoworks. After going through tons of quick read thermometers we've found it to be the fastest and best (and no, we don't get paid for the plug). Look for a temperature of about 125-130 deg. F. for thick cod. Another trick is to get one side (the one you are going to show off) nicely browned then flip over and finish the fish till done and not worry about being totally browned. You'll be showing off the browned side and the other side is going to be sitting in potatoes and broth anyhow. Remember that the fish is going to keep cooking somewhat after you take it out of the pan, especially since you are putting it on top of hot potatoes with a hot broth. We've picked 125-130 as being at the very low end of doneness. You might like yours cooked slightly more (another 5 -10 degrees) but we find that is overcooked to our taste. At 140 deg. while still in the pan you're heading for a bad result as far as we're concerned.

Reheat the chorizo broth. Over low heat immediately add the mussels and lemon juice. Remove thyme and rosemary, and add the parsley. This just before serving.

Broth and Mussels

To serve, place a portion of potatoes in the center of each of four large shallow soup plates. Place a portion of fish on potatoes. Spoon the chorizo-mussel broth around the potatoes. Garnish with thyme and rosemary. Of course the garnish is completely unnecessary, but the odds are you would have bought more than you needed (and yes you must use fresh). Ours came from the garden.

Enjoy!

Finished Dish

This is a great 'special' meal, but easy enough to do almost any time. Which means it is a really great special ocassion meal. We expect the hardest part is just acquiring the ingredients.


Nalle Winery

Nalle Winery Squirrels

2010 Chardonnay

We had this spectacular dish with a really good, rich, not particularly oaky Chardonnay.

Now, if you are lucky enough to still have some Nalle Chard around, go for it. The picture is our last bottle.

You might also try the Nalle Sparkling or possibly a Nalle Pinot, and certainly the Nalle 2017 Zin which pairs nicely with the Chorizo.

Cheers!

Here is a summary of the recipe in a .pdf you can print