Lent is upon us, and my weekly Shoprite flyer has a whole page dedicated to fish under the banner, “Lenten Seafood.” The specials make the weekly abstaining from “flesh meat” (Church language, not mine!) on Fridays rather more festive than the Church may have intended. But here we are, the original Meatless Weekday upon us, and there shall be no burgers or General Tso’s Chicken on Fridays for a while.
So we resort to fish. Several weeks ago I was seeking inspiration for a beautiful fillet of cod I brought home from the winter green market. I love my Breton Fish Stew , but I fancied a dish that would help me “escape” from winter for a few hours but not take forever to prepare. I found it in The Provence Cookbook by Patricia Wells.
Cod braises in a tomato sauce that echoes the flavors of Provence—citrus and fennel—but is hearty enough for a mid-winter dinner. The sauce can be made a few days in advance.
To finish the dish simply reheat the sauce in a pan that is wide enough to fit the cod in one layer and allow the sauce to be at least two to three inches deep, so that it doesn’t evaporate or burn. Other sturdy white fish can be used—cod, hake, haddock, pollock, halibut—but a delicate fish like flounder will fall apart.
To serve, put some sauce on a dish, top with a portion of cod, and garnish with chopped green olives. Close your eyes and imagine a leisurely drive through rolling fields of sunflowers and lavender.
The original recipe calls for some hot red pepper flakes, which I did not use, as I seem to have a very low tolerance to hot spices (to my dismay). The original instructions also suggest blanching the orange zest before using it; I grated my orange directly into the sauce as it was simmering. Instead of using a bouquet garni I added several springs of thyme only. Add salt sparingly and finish seasoning at the end.
Cod Braised in Spicy Tomato, Fennel & Orange Sauce
(Adapted from Patricia Wells’ “The Provence Cookbook” The Provence Cookbook
- 2 t. extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced
- 2 plump cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
- Sea salt to taste
- 1 28-ounce can chopped or crushed tomatoes in their juice, plus 1/3 can water (I prefer San Marzano tomatoes if I can find them)
- 1/2 t. fennel seeds
- grated zest of one orange
- 2 sprigs of thyme
- hot red pepper flakes to taste (optional)
- 2 lbs. fresh cod fillet, cleaned but with skin intact
- Chopped green olives to taste for garnish
Make the sauce:
- In a large skillet or braising pan [LINK} combine the oil, onion, garlic and a pinch of salt. Stir to coat with the oil, then cover and cook gently until softened but not browned, about three minutes, stirring as needed.
- Add the tomatoes, water, fennel seeds, orange zest, thyme, and red pepper (if using) to the pot. Stir. Raise the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until it thickens, about 20 minutes. Discard the thyme branches and go on to the next step, or let cool and refrigerate until later.
To finish the dish:
- Cut the cod into equal serving portions (the size of a portion is up to you); check for any tiny bones and remove them with tweezers.
- Bring the sauce to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and immediately add the cod. Cover and simmer gently until the fish is cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. Check for seasoning at the end.
- To serve: put ½ cup sauce on a plate, top with a portion of cod, and sprinkle with chopped green olives.
Serves 4 to 6