Welcome Back to In The Kitchen at Morrell

Fine dining in your home, made simple–that’s what came to mind the first time that Chef Juan Carlos put his Crispy Pan Seared Rock Cod dish in front of me. Often when we go out to restaurants, the plates that are placed in front of us can be quite intimidating, and attempting to think through the preparation of such a dish is even more so. But that’s where we are often wrong. Many of the dishes prepared in professional kitchens are designed to be a combination of a number of individually prepared pieces that come together to create one wonderfully impressive whole. This is the reason why a restaurant can prepare a dish like this in under fifteen minutes–and the same reason why you can too.

Crispy Pan Seared Rock Cod is a combination of three parts that can all be prepared separately and assembled when you are ready to serve it. In fact, the only piece of this recipe that needs to be done right before serving is the actual browning and cooking of the cod itself. The Ratatouille and Spinach puree can both be prepared earlier in the day and then quickly heated (or finished) right before serving. I think you’ll find that this will not only save you a great deal of time, but also stress, and your guests will be amazed by both the speed of your service and the preparation.

As for the wine pairings, it’s important to keep in mind that this is not your average fish dish, and just pulling any ol’ white wine will not do it service. Here we have the complexities of the roasted vegetables, the delicacy of the spinach, and the crispy browned panko to consider–all while not forgetting to let the flavors of the Rock Cod shine through. It’s a complex dish and a complex pairing dilemma for our two somms.

Crispy Pan Seared Rock Cod

with Oven Baked Ratatouille and Spinach-Purée

Serves 4

“Instead of the classic Ratatouille, which is stewed, I decided to do it in the oven to add a beautiful caramelization to the vegetables and complement the Spinach Purée. It’s sure to impress. On top of that, the preparation for the cod will ensure that your fish will turn out tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. The contrast of textures and flavors is sure to be a hit.”Chef Juan Carlos Mendoza

Ingredients for Ratatouille

  • 1 large yellow pepper, cubed
  • 2 medium zucchini, cubed
  • 1 medium eggplant, cubed
  • 2 large tomato, cubed
  • 1 large red onion, diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small chili, minced (optional)
  • 1 ½ tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ tbsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1 ½ tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Pepper to taste

The Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil with herbs, salt, minced garlic and chili, if using.
  3. Place the rest of the vegetables into a large shallow bowl.
  4. Add the oil-herb mixture and gently toss to coat.
  5. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
  6. Uncover and bake for another 15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and slightly charred at the edges.

Ingredients for Baby Spinach Purée

  • 1 bunch spinach leaves picked, cleaned and washed
  • 1 large sliced shallot
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cornstarch for thickening

The Method (You can prepare this ahead of time and reheat as needed)

  1. Bring to boil one liter of water in a sauce pan.
  2. Prepare and place an ice bath on the side for later.
  3. In a separate hot skillet, bring the olive oil to cooking temperature, and add the shallots and garlic.
  4. Season with salt and pepper, and sautée until shallots are translucent.
  5. Set shallots and garlic aside to cool.
  6. When the water comes to a boil, add all spinach leaves, making sure that all of the leaves are completely immersed in the water, and let them boil for one minute.
  7. Strain the leaves and transfer them to the ice bath to let cool down.
  8. Once cool, strain until all excess water drains out.
  9. Incorporate the sautéed shallots, garlic, salt, pepper and drained spinach into a blender.
  10. Start blending the mixture and add the cornstarch to get a smooth consistency, adding a little bit of water if necessary.
  11. You can now use the spinach puree for plating or set aside and reheat for later.

Ingredients for the Rock Cod

  • 4 pieces (5oz each) Rock Cod (Note: Ask your butcher to portion from the thicker side, not from the tail side.)
  • ¼ cup flour, unbleached or all-purpose
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ¾ cup Panko bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ½ cup olive oil, or enough to cover the bottom of a large frying pan
  • Microgreens for garnish (optional)

The Method

  1. Lay out the flour, beaten egg and Panko bread crumbs on three separate plates or shallow bowls.
  2. Sprinkle the fish with salt and pepper.
  3. Dip the top side of the seasoned fish in the flour, then egg and press the fish into the Panko bread crumbs, coating the top side of the fish. Repeat until all of your cod has a Panko crust.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. (This will take only take a couple of minutes, so be careful not to burn the oil.)
  5. Place the breaded side of your cod carefully in the hot skillet and reduce the heat to medium, but keep it at a sizzle. When the breaded side is browned, flip the fish and let it cook for 2-3 minutes.
  6. Note at this time that you will reduce to low heat to avoid a burned fish, or if you prefer to use the oven, it will be much better; just make sure that it’s at 400°F.
  7. Once the cod is cooked evenly, remove it from the hot skillet and let it rest on a paper towel to absorb any extra oil.

Time to Plate

  1. Drop a soup spoon of Spinach Purée on the plate, place the spoon on it, and drag the Purée across the plate.
  2. Add 1-1.5 serving spoon of Ratatouille in the middle of the dragged spinach Purée. (Pro tip: Use a round cookie cutter to achieve a perfect circle by filling the cookie cutter with Ratatouille and then lifting the cutter straight up.)
  3. Place your crispy Rock Cod on top of the Ratatouille.
  4. Squeeze some lemon juice on top of the fish.
  5. Garnish it with micro greens.

Wine Pairings

I think by now you can see what I meant about complexities. There’s so much going on in this recipe and the finished plate that pairing the perfect wine can be extremely difficult. Do we go with high acid to cut through the panko, a hint of sweetness to accentuate the squash, or minerality to pair with the cod?

Christian Fentress

Pairing: B Vinters ‘Haarlem to Hope’ Cape of Good Hope, Stellenbosch, South Africa 2015

Why it works: This pairing was a sensory memory recollection, as it reminded me of my trip to South Africa. Chenin blends and seafood just work so well together. Our seared rock cod dish, meaty with a natural sweetness, pairs beautifully with the round fruit-driven character of the semillon and muscat. Cut by the bright acidity and smoky mineral quality of the chenin, it forms a perfect complement to the nice roasted nature of the Ratatouille.

My Thoughts: I think Christian nailed it here. The combination of ripe fruit, minerals and acidity were the perfect blend to combat the Rock Cod’s mix of contrasting flavors and textures. It pays to keep an open mind, and that point was driven home for me when I first saw the blend from South Africa. It’s a perfect pairing.

Anna-Christina Cabrales

Pairing: La Raia Cortese di Gavi Riserva 2014

Why it works: Thinking somewhat along the same vein, I leaned towards my summer favorite: La Raia Cortese di Gavi Riserva. This is an exceptional wine from the region, and I think it would satisfy palates from those who enjoy wines from Chablis and Vouvray. Note that this wine is actually a Riserva, so this age-worthy wine carries a bit of weight which stands up to all the textures in this dish. The waxy, lanolin, light citrus tones with the nutty and slightly-pithy edge effortlessly pairs with the cod but elevates all the vegetal aspects of the dish that I think would otherwise be considered an afterthought.

My Thoughts: This month, Anna-Christina looked to one of my favorite regions for her pairing and a wine that doesn’t receive anywhere near the amount of respect it deserves. The Gavi Reserva was a power play of a pairing, and one that you wouldn’t expect until the moment the wine touched your palate. Here, the richness of the Gavi’s extended aging complemented the Rock Cod, while the wine’s naturally high acidity cut through the panko crust. Add to that a note of savory salinity that worked wonders contrasting the sweetness of the Ratatouille.

To Sum It All Up

This month’s feature was a real treat for all of us. Not only is the Rock Cod an excellent addition to the month in September, but it also gave me the perfect opportunity to share a few Chef’s secrets with our readers as well. Once you get used to the idea of assembling your plates with a combination of prepared items that come together in the end, you’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish.

What’s more, our Somms took us to South Africa and Piedmont for our pairings, further opening our minds to the diverse world of white wine. This is a recipe that should absolutely be tried at home, along with the two perfect pairings to go with it.

Until next month, keep cooking and tasting!

Eric Guido

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