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Nigel Slater's A Thirty-Minute Fish Supper (Cod & Mash) for Cook the Books: "Eating for England"

Posted May 19 2010 2:28am
" Eating for England " by British cook, food journalist and author Nigel Slater is our current selection for Cook The Books , our virtual bi-monthly foodie book club, co-hosted by Rachel, The Crispy Cook , Johanna from Food Junkie Not Junk Food and me. Jo, our host for this round, chose Slater's lively tour of British cuisine--from fond recollections of his youth to glimpses of modern day food culture, told in small, humorous "bites" (pun intended--another coming). It is a perfect bedside book to enjoy a few "tasty morsels" of each night (sorry, I really tried to stop myself with that one), before going to sleep. Slater states it best in the preface, "Eating for England is simply a personal celebration of the food this nation cherishes, the rituals we observe, the curious and even eccentric thing that is the British and their food."

Having spent a little time in the UK and being a bit of an anglophile, especially in my reading choices, I was familiar with many, but not all of the foods, people and settings Slater describes, making this a fun read for me. I am also a Nigel Slater fan--his " Real Fast Food " is a "go-to" book for me when I want something quick and delicious for dinner, and his gorgeous book of recipe templates, " Appetite " is another favorite.


I was a bit stumped with what to make for this one--with 280 pages of food "vignettes" to choose from, it was a bit overwhelming. I had pretty much settled on a Victoria Sandwich or Victoria Sponge Cake, the two layer cake filled with jam and whipped cream which is a favorite, and I paged through Slater's "Appetite" to see if he had an appropriate recipe. Flipping through the book my eye was caught by a gorgeous picture of a piece of flaky fish and a cloud of mashed potatoes--Slater's "A Thirty-Minute Fish Dinner" and couldn't get the image out of my head. The heart and stomach want what the heart and stomach want, and mine chose savory over sweets. This is a simple, no fuss-no frills dinner--great on its own, but Slater also offers suggestions for two sauces; a "soothing butter sauce" and an "uplifting green and piquant sauce" to change it up a bit. Upon reading the recipe for the green sauce with parsley, mint, capers and anchovy to name a few key ingredients, I was sold and ready to make some British-style comfort food.


Slater says, "Sometimes you just want huge, chalky white flakes of fish and a mound of fluffy potato. It is difficult to think of cod and mash as being an expensive supper but that is what it has become. I must say I like haddock almost as much as cod. In fact, any thick fillet of white fish appeals to me when it has been cooked in butter in a hot oven till its flesh is as white as snow and full of juice. How much you enjoy the result will, I think, depend almost entirely on the quality of the fish--by which I mean its freshness and flavor--and whether you get the timing right. The trick is to ignore the clock and to cook the fish only until a flake of its flesh will come easily away from the skin and bone when you pull it. Simple as that."

A Thirty-Minute Fish Supper
"Appetite" by Nigel Slater

potatoes--a large, floury one per person
olive oil
butter--a thick slice for cooking the fish and another for the mashed potato
cod or haddock--a thick piece, about 7 ounces, per person
lemon--a quarter per person

Peel the potatoes and cut them into halves or quarters, depending on their size. Drop them into boiling salted water and let them cook till tender to the point of a knife. You can expect this to take about fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on the variety of the potato.

Meanwhile, get the oven good and hot. It should be at least 400 degrees F. Put a thin pool of olive oil--just enough to cover the bottom--into a metal handled frying pan or roasting pan. Warm the oil over a moderate heat, then slide in a thick slice of butter. The butter will bubble, then foam, and this is when you should lower in your piece of fish. Do this skin side down.

Tweak the temperature so that the bubbles surrounding the fish are lively but not so excited that the butter burns. Leave the fish without nudging or turning, for a minute or so. Lift it gently to check how it is coming on. You want the skin to be touched with pale gold. Now turn the fish over with a slotted or metal spatula, crumble over some sea salt and black pepper, and put it in the hot oven. Bake until the fish is opaque and juicy, and will come easily away from the skin and bone. Test it for readiness by gently tweaking a flake. You will find the thickest piece of fish, about 7 ounces in weight, will take about eight minutes.

Drain the potatoes, mash them with a potato masher, and beat in the butter. How far you go with this depends on how much dishwashing you feel like doing, but I believe the fluffiest mash is that which spends a minute in an electric mixer. Serve the mash with the roast fish and some lemon for squeezing over.

And More...Uplifting Green & Piquant Sauce
A blender salsa verde is another idea. The piquancy of the capers and the saltiness of the anchovy are singularly appropriate with the white fish. My basic recipe is to whiz all of most of the following in the blender: the leaves from a large bunch of flat-leaf parsley and a few sprigs of mint, 6 anchovy fillets, a couple of cloves of garlic, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, a couple of tablespoons of capers, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Now pour in enough olive oil to reduce it all to a lumpy slurry the color of that green stuff that floats on the pond in summer. Taste and check; you might find you want it with more mustard or lemon.


Notes/Results: Simple, almost to the point of being basic, but so incredibly delicious and filling, this was the perfect comfort food meal. It is amazing what a little butter can do for cod and potatoes--my fish was perfectly moist, sweet and tasty and the potatoes were creamy and cloud-like. The sauce was excellent--a great combination of ingredients and a salty-tangy flavor that really enhanced the dish and will be a new favorite for me. I couldn't have been happier with my dinner and was glad I made enough for leftovers. In fact you can tune in tomorrow to see what happens when Slater meets Bittman, as some of my leftover potatoes and fish become Cod Cakes with Ginger and Scallions for IHCC.

A very fun book and a very delicious meal for Cook The Books. Jo will be rounding up the dishes submitted after Friday at the CTB site and our judge for this round, the wonderful Foodycat (our only 3-time CTB winner!) will be picking her favorite.
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