Spinach Braised Cod
It seems that whenever I review my old posts, I come away saying “I haven’t written about fish often enough!”
Well, there are several reasons. One is that we don’t really eat fish as often as, ideally, I would like to… When I learned to cook I didn’t have a reliable source, and really never cooked it at home, and perhaps that’s the reason it just doesn’t register in my brain. And we do have a very tight budget, and, unfortunately, most fish is significantly more expensive than the other animal proteins we eat.
At the same time, if I go to Greenmarket and buy the absolutely fresh bluefish we love from a local fisherman, I then just pan broil it. It’s a dark, oily, flavorful fish – which doesn’t lend itself to most seafood recipes, and (I understand) is not available in most of the country. But when the blues are running, there’s nothing better!
I have found, though, a product that solves several problems. We have a Trader Joe’s near us, and they sell deep frozen Pacific Cod Pieces, and it is easy for me to buy a package and keep it on hand for later use. (And we know how I like to have food available for use!) It is also affordable.
Cod is a “meaty,” relatively mild, good tasting fish that has been highly popular for centuries, particularly since it was easy to preserve with drying or salting before freezers. And that’s the reason I don’t buy (and indeed, rarely see) local Atlantic cod – it is horrendously overfished… Pacific cod, though, is more sustainable – while I don’t want to overdo it, I’m fine with a pound or two a month… (If you are interested in the sustainability of your seafood choices, the Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guides are a handy resource for the US. You can download an app, or print out a pocket guide. And this has been very much a discussion of sustainability in the US – Europe no longer takes most of its cod from the Grand Banks, and the Barents Sea is a separate discussion.)
So I had some cod. And I had some spinach… I spent the whole summer and fall filling the freezer with vegetables – green muffins, cooked red cabbage, simmered eggplant – for use in winter. Well – it’s winter. We actually have the fewest choices in fresh vegetables in March, when storage vegetables are either gone or past their prime, so I’ll hold a few until then, but we have entered the season when I supplement fresh with frozen, and I need to make room in the freezer for commercial frozen vegetables. So, spinach… When we got large amounts from the CSA right before they expected first frost, I didn’t have much room in the freeze, so instead of sauteing it and making green muffins, I pureed bags full of spinach, and froze the puree – some in ice cube trays, some in 1 cup containers.
Spinach and any mild white fish are a wonderful combination. Normally, I would saute spinach, and cook the fish next to it (as, indeed, I wrote about last May) but the spinach puree changes things a little – and the cod pieces were thicker and denser than the tilapia I cooked then. I thought it would be a pleasant change to braise the fish right in the spinach, to meld the flavors.
So first, I thawed the puree. And, since I know most of you don’t just happen to have a single cup of spinach puree hanging about the house, I weighed it – that’s half a pound of spinach! So if you want to make this, just wash and trim 8 ounces of fresh or frozen spinach, and run it through a blender, and then we’ll be starting in the same place… Anyway, as you can see, though I had added no liquid, there is a lot of moisture naturally in spinach, and it separated out. In another recipe I might have drained it – but here, I wanted it to cook the fish.
I took a pan and heated a bit of butter – I do prefer butter to oil, for flavor, when I cook either spinach or any mild white fish – and sauteed a chopped small onion. (Well, half a medium onion – there aren’t many small ones around from now until summer.)
Nutmeg is a lovely flavor that, like butter, goes well with both spinach and fish. I have a nutmeg grater and whole nutmegs… (and have been avoiding the issue in the blog.) There is much more flavor in fresh than in ground – the only reason I use ground at all is for recipes like the gingerbread spice blend where I’d need too much to grate all at once. You really never do use very much per serving, though – this is the proverbial pinch. I grated what seemed a reasonable amount, then pulled out the spoon so I could give you a clue – and I’d say it all adds up to about half of the quarter teaspoon measure – an eighth of a teaspoon. (Which is officially the measurement of a Pinch…) You don’t really taste the nutmeg as a separate flavor – but it brings out, warms, and perks up the others.
I stirred the nutmeg into the butter and onion, and heated it a little to bring out the aroma, then added the spinach puree. Since it was separating, I then stirred it all together. In another recipe, if I hadn’t drained it I would now simmer it dry, but again – I wanted the moisture for the fish… So indeed, I added the thawed fish. Like most flash frozen fish, it comes with a thin coating of ice, so I had thawed it and then drained it, before putting it in the pan. I then covered the pan, and simmered for five minutes.
After five minutes, I removed the cover, turned the fish over, and then cooked until done. The pieces of cod were many sizes and shapes – some small bits were already almost cooked through, so I just gave them another minute, and started pulling them to the side, and then out. One piece was large and thick enough that I gave it a full five minutes after turning, to be sure the center was cooked. Now, if you have thin fillets, not chunks, you may want to uncover and turn after 3-4 minutes, to be sure you can turn before it falls apart… you will need to use your own discretion.
All right, it’s not as pretty as white fish on an emerald lake of spinach would be – but using the spinach to essentially season the fish worked beautifully. The flavors blend well, and again, gave us a very quick and simple meal. I served it all over cooked millet (I’m trying to get away a little from the ubiquitous rice, and give us more variety. This was a perfect combination.)
Spinach Braised Cod
- 2 t butter
- 1 small onion chopped
- pinch nutmeg
- 8 oz. spinach pureed
- 12 oz cod fillets or other mild white fish Thawed, if frozen
- Heat butter in a pan, add onion and saute. When onion is soft, add nutmeg, and stir to heat.
- Add spinach puree, and stir. Add fish. Bring to a low simmer and cover. Let simmer 3-5 minutes (depending on thickness of fish fillets.)
- Remove cover, turn fish over. Continue cooking until fish is just barely cooked through.
- Serve with the spinach as a sauce.