My friend James Lowe is a fantastic chef. In the absurdly stressful run-up to opening his first restaurant, Lyle's in Shoreditch, London] he managed to spare an afternoon to teach me this dish. I will always thank him for that.
The dish centres around wonderful thrifty and meaty cod cheeks. It's a brilliant dish for its simplicity, purity and vibrancy, and it's also a masterclass in balancing flavours.
James is very particular about ingredients. He says: "Life's too short for bad vinegar, oil and anchovies," and advises using the best-possible quality you can find to make this dish really special. I'm not about to argue!
- 300g small new potatoes (ideally Jersey Royals or Yukon Golds), washed
- 5g wakame seaweed (from health food and Asian grocery stores)
- Sea salt
- 500g cod cheeks, cleaned and sinew removed (fillets of any firm white fish like cod, coley or pollock will do)
- Flavourless oil (rapeseed, groundnut or sunflower)
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 80ml extra virgin olive oil
- 15g tarragon leaves
- 15g flatleaf parsley leaves
- 1 garlic clove
- 1tsp Dijon mustard
- 10g small capers, rinsed
- 20g good-quality, salt-packed anchovies, rinsed and chopped
- Generous pinch of sea salt
- 1-2tbs good-quality cider vinegar with mother (or other good- quality vinegar)
Put the potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover them with water until there's about 2cm of water above the surface of the potatoes. Add the seaweed, cover and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down slightly and taste the water for salt. You want it salty but not overly so, as you'll use some of this stock for the sauce.
Now make the green sauce. If you're making it in a food processor, pour in the olive oil, then add the herbs, garlic and Dijon mustard, blitz and transfer to a mixing bowl. If you're making it by hand, chop the herbs finely and put them in a mixing bowl with the oil, garlic and Dijon mustard, and combine thoroughly.
Add the capers, 7g of the anchovies and the sea salt. Stir well and taste it - it should be grassy and green, but in need of a lift. Begin to add the vinegar, a little at a time, stirring vigorously and tasting as you go. You want the vinegar to pique the sauce with its acidity and bring out its fresh punch.
James says: "This is the main acidic element to the dish and it will be used to heighten the rest of the food, so acidify with the vinegar until it almost makes you salivate! In a good way."
Vinegars vary in acidity depending on quality, so you need to trust your palate here and add as much as you think it needs.
Heat a heavy-based frying pan (skillet) over a high heat until it's stinking hot. Season the cod cheeks on one side with sea salt. Drizzle a dash of oil into the pan and add the cheeks, salty-side down. Leave them untouched and let them cook for one or two minutes until they form a nice golden crust. Once they have coloured, flip them over and cook for another two minutes (cook them for no longer than five minutes in total). Remove any smaller cod cheeks from the pan while you make the sauce as they will cook much quicker.
Turn the heat down slightly and add the lemon juice. Then add three tablespoons of the potato stock, and swirl it around the pan to deglaze, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Drain and add the potatoes, remaining anchovies and any cod cheeks you may have removed.
To serve, plate up three to four potatoes per person along with pieces of seaweed, and divide the cheeks between the plates. Pour over the pan sauce and drizzle the green sauce on top. Enjoy!
Incidentally, James has a brilliant tip for making any kind of fresh sauce with chopped herbs: always start with olive oil. It coats the chopped herbs and stops them from oxidising, keeping them brighter and fresher for longer.
Recipe from [A Lot on Her Plate by Rosie Birkett. Photograph by Helen Cathcart
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