Ask Peter: Blue cod
I have just moved south and have access to the wonderful blue cod that wasn’t so prevalent in Auckland. Can you give me any tips on how to make the most of this fish. Mich
If I had to choose a favourite fish in New Zealand, it would likely be blue cod. I love its small sweet fleshy flakes and the flavour is divine — slightly sweet, definitely fishy, subtle but strong. The texture is firm and delicate at the same time, if that’s possible, and it goes well with so many flavours, as long as they aren’t overpowering.
Take some skinned fillet and dust with seasoned flour (to which you can add a little sweet smoked paprika or toasted sesame seeds). Fry in a combo of butter and sunflower or light olive oil and serve with a leafy salad and some roasted cherry tomatoes.
Or make a mild coconut curry with smallish chunks of roast pumpkin, then stir in small leaf spinach at the endand lay the fish on top. It can cope well with chilli and ginger, but too much “robustness” in a curry will kill the flavour.
Another way to cook it is “en papillote”, which means “in parchment”. This is a method not uncommon in France and other European countries — Turkey too in fact — and it works on a simple principle of cooking the fish in a sealed package so none of the aromas and moisture are lost, as they can be when baking fish. The key with baking en papillote is ensuring everything in the package will be cooked in the same amount of time, which means sometimes you need to prep some ingredients more than others.
A chicken breast cooked this way will need around 15 minutes or more of cooking time, so you can add raw slices of pumpkin, parsnips, celeriac etc. as they will also have time to cook.
Thin proteins like blue cod, which will need only 5-8 minutes, can be ruined unless the rest of the ingredients have been par-cooked in advance. Not all fish will cook so quickly — a chunk of hapuku or a meaty salmon steak may well need at least 15 minutes, depending on the temperature of the oven. To make these parcels I’d suggest you go online and get some pointers— there’s not enough words left here for me to describe it — but it is simple.
You will need to use non-stick parchment or you can substitute non-stick foil — easier, but much less pretty. For blue cod lightly season the skinned fillet on both sides — allow a 150-180g piece per portion. If the fillet is thin, fold it in half on top of itself to prevent it drying out.
On the paper, place a small handful of thinly shaved raw fennel, silverbeet or finely julienned celeriac. A mixture of all is good too, but they must be thin and fine as they won’t be cooked for long. Next, place 2 teaspoons of fully caramelised thinly sliced shallots or red onions you have cooked with freshly grated ginger — not so much that they’ll overpower the fish, but enough to add a little sweet smokiness to the package. Sit the fish on top. Drizzle with a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil, or add a knob of butter. Top with a sprig of thyme, or a couple of basil, oregano or marjoram leaves. Fold the package up and seal it.
For a dinner party, you can do this up to six hours beforehand. To cook the parcels, place on a pre-heated tray or dish in an oven set to 200C (fan-forced) and bake 5-8 minutes, depending on thickness, at which point the fish should be cooked. To check, snip one of them open and peek inside— the fish should be just translucent.
Serve one papillote per person on warmed plates, but get your guests to open them at the table: this way they can experience the fabulous aroma as it escapes. And you can always use a chicken roasting bag if you don’t feel your origami skills will make a tightly sealed and attractive packet!
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to email@example.com and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes here.