Recently, my mom and I began talking about food more and more. I think she’s curious, even if she won’t admit it, about the book idea and since we first spoke about it she’s been more eager to talk about our heritage meals. Growing up, she never cooked much of them apart from a few staples like Chicken & Rice and variants of garlic codfish, and we didn’t go to a lot of Iberian restaurants. Lately though, the meals she’s grown up with have come out more. Today, we worked on a variation of one of my great aunt’s dishes. Although we’re unsure how much the recipe’s changed over the years from the original, this is about as close as we know to what she cooked and what both of us know of the cooking in general and how the family recipes vary. No one is sure what the proper name of this is in Portuguese, so you’ll have to forgive the possible butchering of the name. What I most love about things like this though is the possibility of cooking with family, it’s really very nice, even when I’m not the lead chef (hullo soux!) because it is such a big part of what makes truly great food such a universally enjoyable event.
For this ‘fish stew,’ it’s a simple comfort dish, assuming, of course you find this type of thing comfortable, which I certainly do. For most though, it might seem a little exotic, since it’s out of the usual flavor pallet, but if you keep it rustic it should be enjoyable. The cod is centerpiece of the dish, as it is, after all, the national fish of Portugal. This is with fresh cod not the salt cod! IF you use salt cod (though it’s not recommended), you need to thoroughly rinse it and probably add extra liquid to the dish to compensate for it. The key is not over cooking the fish so it maintains a night light flakey flavor, however, any number of white fish could substitute in it from whiting, to mahi mahi to even thick flounder fillets. We used red pepper flakes to help bolster the flavor pallet even though that’s not the way the recipe was handed down, however, piri piri peppers would be a nice addition for the heat instead and is what I’ve suggested here, if you can find these lovely peppers. There are a number of variants that are possible to this as well, including substituting the miriquois in this with the trinity (celery instead of carrot)
Cod fish fillets
Green peas (frozen)
Flat leaf parsley
sparking white wine (Lancers is preferred)
Black and White cracked pepper
Pre-prepare the potatoes by blanching them in boiling water so they begin to soften but are still fork stiff.
Lightly coat the skillet with some olive oil
Julienne the onions, carrots and peppers and coarsely chop the piri piri, garlic and parsley
Chop or crush by hand the tomatoes
Slice the potatoes to make large round discs about 1/8 to 1/4″ thick (you want them to be about half the thickness of the thinnest part of the cod fillet) and layer them in the skillet
Lightly season with the potato with the black and white pepper and paprika
Place the cod fillets over the potatoes and season them with the pepper and paprika as well
Place the garlic, then onion, then peppers, then carrots, then tomatoes peas and piri piri over the fish fillets
Add a 3:1 ratio of the Lancers to the Madeira to the dish so that it brings the liquid up to the level if the fish (submerging the potatoes but not completely submerging the fish)
Season the veggies on top with the black and white pepper
Place the skillet over a high flame covered and bring it up to a boil for a couple of minutes (between 3 and 10 depending on the thickness of the fish and potatoes)
Remove the cover carefully and then bring the liquid back down to a simmer adding the parsley
Allow to cook until the fish flakes lightly, the potatoes are fork tender, the veggies are soft and the liquid is reduced by at least half if not more
The way I really liked this was to take a nice loaf of crusty Portuguese bread (drizzled with a tiny bit of oil) and place it in a wide brimmed bowl. Then place the skillet on the table and serve the dish family style being sure to get some potato, fish and a hearty scoop of veggies with the wine base. The bread will soak up the wonderful set of flavors and the rest of the pieces of the dish sit on top seeping through it to provide a wonderful extra layer of flavor and texture.