I apologise for the dumb-assed headline. Had I listened to my own advice when I was younger, I probably would have the wit to write a better one. There is no doubt that an education is a gift that, like youth, is often wasted on the young (with apologies to Oscar Wilde). There is bad news for any of us who would have been more interested in what was going on out the window than on the blackboard. Lifetime learning is now the order of the day. So, when I attended a cookery demonstration by one of Ireland’s most accomplished chefs and all round nice guy, Derry Clarke, I should have had my brain engaged.
Derry was educating a group of 40 or so enthusiastic home cooks in the Miele Experience Centre in Dublin’s Citywest. We in Ireland are used to being schooled in vast classes, so the numbers were nothing new to any of us. One of the tips we were given was a way to get a great result when cooking white, firm-fleshed fish like cod or hake. I have allowed a couple of months go by without putting theory into practice in my own kitchen. That was a mistake.
My recipe (Derry’s instructions, my blagging) for simple fried cod (or hake or most other mid-firm fish) goes as follows: Get some good quality salt without any additives. I use Malden as it’s the best I know at a price that doesn’t bring water (salty water at that) to my eyes. Get some fresh cod, ideally a nice thick fillet piece that will cook up nicely as did this piece.
Side note on fresh fish: Always try to get the freshest fish you can. Buy from a fishmonger shop that doesn’t smell of old fish. If you can smell fish, it’s going off. Trust your local fishmonger, they depend on your repeat custom and that’s an incentive to keep things as they should be. As a general rule, buy from a busy shop. That way, the fresh fish are being turned over and your chances of freshness are increased. Also, buy with your eyes. If it looks nice and firm, it’s probably fresh. Where the opportunity presents itself, check the eyes of the fish. If they are opaque, don’t buy. Also, don’t be afraid to ask about the freshness. A good fishmonger will welcome the questions.
Trim the fish so it will look nice on the plate. Sprinkle a generous amount of salt onto the flesh side of the fish. Give the skin side a salting too. Leave it for an hour. The salt will extract some of the moisture from the fish and this will tighten up the flesh somewhat. It will also help the skin to crisp nicely when fried.
Just before frying, clean the fish of salt and pat dry with paper towels. Heat a frying pan to medium hot and heat the oven to 160ºC / 320ºF. Add a small amount of cooking oil to the frying pan then add the fish, skin side down. Leave it untouched for about five minutes. You will see a crusty edge forming and the fish will start to become opaque. This opaqueness will have moved about half way up the fillet.
Gently, turn the fillet over and move the pan from the stovetop to the oven. Leave it there for five minutes.
Serve it on warmed plates with a slice of lemon and some vegetables. I did serve it with a big pile of fluffy potatoes but thought better of putting them into the shot.
Once you have cooked fish this way, you will never go back to “just throwing it on the pan.” The real lesson I learned here is that I should have paid more attention in class. The story of my life….