Cabillaud à la Provençale


Welcome ladies and gentlemen! Were you surprised by the unintelligible gibberish in the title? It’s written in a language called French, and it says something like “codfish cooked in the Provence style”. In Mark Twain’s book “Huckleberry Finn”, the character Jim had the sense to ask why these Frenchies can’t speak Americanese like the rest of us sensible folk, and well, I don’t know. Anyhow, these French people are allegedly world renowned for their cuisine, topping even McDonald’s and Taco Bell in the techniques and flavors of their food.

I have once again been called to do some mercenary cooking for my room mate, who managed to bargain for a rather nice looking piece of cod in exchange for some mere pieces of green-colored paper. This Provence way of cooking codfish is what I decided upon, after reading through a couple dozen recipes involving frying, searing, poaching, and baking this fish. The recipe comes directly from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”. It is unadulterated, since I am still new to the French way of cooking. If you plan to follow this recipe, please read through the entire recipe (or at least the recipe as it appears on page 219 of “Mastering the Art of French Cooking”) so that you are not caught off-guard by any equipment required.

Ingredients

The Lona Misa

Yes, all these things just to pamper that small piece of fish on the left. Its 15 minutes of fame before disappearing forever into someone's gut.

Prep and cook time: ~1 hour
Serves Two

1 lbs cod fish fillet, cut into 3-4 pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion
1 lb tomatoes, peeled and seeded*
1 clove garlic
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp thyme
1/2 cups white wine
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tbsp tomato paste
salt
pepper
1/2 tbsp flour
1/2 tbsp softened butter**

*instructions will be provided on how to go about this below.
**must be at least room temperature! Plan ahead for this if you keep your butter in the refrigerator.

Author’s Note: normally I will say something like “feel free to leave out whatever you do not have or are not willing to shell out money for”, but if you are really interested in learning French cuisine, you should try to obtain as many of these ingredients as possible to really understand the full gamut of what each ingredient is trying to accomplish in the dish. Also, the cooking process is rather long and complex compared to some of the other dishes I have written about. Please follow the instructions as closely as possible because each step has a very specific reason. Omitting any step can result in a significantly different result.

Cooking

We will start by bringing a pot of water to boil. While the water is heating up, start on your prep work by mashing your clove of garlic, dividing and salt and peppering your cod, washing your tomatoes, and chopping your onions. Salt the cod more lightly than you would pork or beef. It is very easy to over-salt your fish.

Fresh herbs?!? This guy really sold out from his roots as a dirt-cheap cook. You bet your ass I did.

Once the water is boiling, dump (or dip individually with a ladle) your tomatoes into the water and submerge for 10 seconds. Remove them from heat immediately afterwards. This will allow you to easily peel your tomatoes.

Look how red those tomatoes are. You could wave this jpeg in front of a bull and he would charge.

Peel the tomatoes and remove that brown dot where the stem of the vine connects to the tomato. Cut each tomato in half across the width (the latitude). Use a spoon to scrape out the seeds and soft juicy parts of the tomato. Either use these in another dish or discard them. Meanwhile, dice and collect the rest of the tomato. These will be used as the bulk of the sauce for this fish dish.

They're so juicy and plump and smooth. Then you GOUGE OUT THEIR INSIDES AND CHOP THEM ALL INTO TINY BITS.

It’s time to move on to the fish! Pour two tablespoons of olive oil into a pan over medium-high heat until the olive oil begins to smoke. Saute your fish pieces for 1-2 minutes per side to lightly brown each side. Remember, the fish should sizzle when you drop it into the oil. If you do not audibly hear the sizzle, take the fish out and wait for the oil to heat up further.

It's poissonous.

Remove fish from the heat and set aside for now.  In the same pan, gently cook your onions for about 5 minutes to soften but not brown. You will need to turn the heat down for the onions. Preheat your oven to 325F (160C) After five minutes add the tomatoes, garlic clove, oregano, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for five more minutes.

If it wasn't for human fixation on meat this could easily be a tomato dish with cod playing a supporting role.

Prepare a baking pan. Place your fish on the bottom and pour your tomato sauce on top. Cover the pan (use aluminum foil if you lack a lid). Bake at the bottom third rack for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Add 1/2 cup of white wine and return the pan to the oven for 10 more minutes. In retrospect, my cook’s instinct tells me that this step is critical. The addition of wine half-way through the cooking process lowers the heat of the dish and prevents the fish from overcooking.

I wonder if some 10 year old will ever stumble onto this blog and go "What? They call this fish cod? Those fuckers totally stole that name from Call of Duty."

As your fish is baking, finely chop a tablespoon or two of parsley and mix together your flour and butter into a paste.

According to CSI if you zoom in closely enough onto the reflection in the spoon you could see my face.

After 20 cumulative minutes in the oven take the fish out. Separate the sauce from the fish fillets. Keep the fillets warm somewhere. Dump your sauce back into the pan and boil on high heat until you have less than a cup of it left. Don’t worry about the chunky tomatoes, the heat will reduce them into near oblivion by the time your sauce is done. At this point, add a tablespoon of tomato paste and your butter/flour paste and cook for another minute.

What if the reason why god isn't real is because there was a typo a long time ago, and we were supposed to be praying to cod all along?

You are almost done! Take the sauce off heat and dump in your chopped parsley. Mix. Prepare a number of plates. Arrange your cod piece(s) onto the plate and pour sauce onto the cod. Serve warm.

The Result

All that work for such a small portion. Oliver Twist would look at this and ask you for more.

 ??? / 5  Another mercenary effort so I am not entirely sure exactly how good it tastes. The sauce is pretty good at any rate. It is a bit tart, since I still can’t be arsed to grow my own tomatoes and supermarket tomatoes in the United States are typically rather poor in flavor compared to homegrown. If you have access to homegrown, ripe tomatoes, I highly recommend you try this dish with it. You will see a huge difference.

Conclusion

An interesting anecdote is that while I was growing up, raised in a traditional Chinese family, we always looked down on “Western” cuisine as rough and simplistic. My only contact with Western “cuisine” at the time being cafeteria food from school, I was inclined to agree. Steamed peas? Green beans boiled until they were turning yellow? Raw vegetable salads? These foods seemed so basic and flavorless compared to the stir fries of Chinese cooking which involved much washing, slicing, cooking, and saucing. And so I relayed these observations to my parents, who used these findings to reinforce their prejudices against western cuisine. To this day, many first-generation Chinese immigrants hold onto these same prejudices even after having lived in the United States for decades.

But you know, and I know, that these people, as proud as they are of their own cuisine, are missing an entire world of food. To me, right now, French cooking is still a bit of a novelty. It is exotic, complex, and a lot of fun. I, for one, do not want to miss out on what my fellow (ex-) countrymen are too disdained to try.

The moral of the story is to not be be afraid to try out new foods, even if you do not like it the first time you try it. At the very least you’ll leave the meal with an interesting story about that time you tried wild boar’s sphincter poached in the tears of seven year old children, or whatever that dish may be!

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: