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May 30, 2008 02:39 PM

Cod casserole, kinda Catalán

I have several recipes in my desktop folder for this basic dish of cod (salt or fresh) with potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and onions, both French and Spanish/Catalán versions. The difference between these is mostly seasoning, with the French ones using herbes de Provence and the Spanish ones saffron, and sometimes paprika as well. They're all dead easy, but do take some time: you cook this, then you parboil that, then you fry the fish, and then... Well, anyway, here I was last night, committed to bringing supper over to the semi-invalid in-laws at around 6:30, it was almost 5:30, and everything was still raw. Yikes! But I nailed it - here's how:

5 medium-small White Rose potatoes
5 Roma tomatoes
1 red onion
7-oz. can whole green chiles (gotta be Ortega!)
1 slice bacon
1 link Spanish chorizo, casing removed
about 1 1/2 lbs. fresh Alaskan cod
1/2 cup dry white wine
pinch of saffron
salt, pepper, olive oil

Cut the potatoes into bite-size chunks, and the fish as well. Cut up the tomatoes, the onion, the chiles as you like them. Dice the bacon, slice the chorizo into coin-sized pieces. Season the fish lightly with salt and pepper and set in a wire basket to drain. Heat the wine and put the saffron into it, and set aside.

Heat some oil and the bacon in your cookpot until the bacon is sizzling nicely. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for about five minutes, then stir in the tomatoes. Cover and cook over medium heat until the tomatoes are all soft, then raise the heat and stir in the potatoes, the chorizo and the chiles. Pour in the wine and stir in a big five-finger pinch of salt. When that comes to the boil, reduce the heat and put the lid on.

Now, what I did at this juncture was to let it simmer until it was time to leave, about twenty minutes, at which point I laid the fish over the top of the other stuff and we carted it over to the parents' place. Once there, I stirred the fish down into the stew, replaced the lid, and set it in a 350º oven for another twenty minutes or so until the potatoes were tender. We had that with a summer-squash gratin and an unsophisticated red from Papa's cellar - the infamous Two Buck Chuck, it was - and it was very good. Good enough to make me wonder about all the time I'd spent on the earlier versions...

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  1. I am eager to try this. One of my friends is a great cook but she is Mormon and cannot use wine or other alcohol in cooking. What can she do?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Brian S

      The wine really is not necessary at all; in fact, the dish came out a bit soupier than it needed to be on the first offering, though after a night in the refrigerator the potatoes had soaked up most of the excess. You could easily substitute a bouillon (chicken, shrimp or fish) or even just water.

      This is not one of those rocket-science recipes. When I served it for dinner at home the next night, I had three Italian sausages that needed to be used, so I cooked those on the gas grill and then sliced them into the pot, for which I was thanked. If you don't eat pork, you could leave out the bacon; if you don't eat red meat at all you could just use cod. Oh, and I usually finish it off with some sliced black olives, but I was serving this to some olive-haters so I didn't.

    2. I've just finished wolfing down my third huge helping. My friend, who is one of my mom's nurses, liked it so much that she is going to prepare it for her own family tomorrow. It is a very forgiving recipe, since we made a lot of substitutions. No saffron, bouillon for wine, ersatz Italian sausage for chorizo, Wal-Mart chiles for Ortega. And it was nonetheless wonderful. The flavor from the chiles bacon and sausage blended together in the broth and intensified the flavor yielded by the cod so it tasted like bacalao.

      I found this recipe because chose it as one of the four Home Cooking posts to be put in the weekly digest. Good choice. And thank you, Will Owen!!!

      2 Replies
      1. re: Brian S

        That's funny about your "wolfing it down" - As I mentioned, I was bringing it to my elderly in-laws' house for supper, as they've both been eating hardly anything lately. Mom's pain medication kills her appetite when it doesn't actually nauseate her, and Pops typically takes a spoonful of everything and nibbles at it. Mom got about a cup of it and ate the whole thing, while Pops devoured his and asked for seconds. Mrs. O and I didn't have any problem getting through a big bowlful apiece, and two nights later the addition of the grilled sausage resulted in NO leftovers. Something about these flavors, plus the inherent comfort value of soup.

        You can of course use freshened bacalao if you want to. The flavor might be even more intense.

        1. re: Will Owen

          This reminds me of one of my favorite comfort meals that involves just cod and potatoes - it's a Mark Bittman recipe.
          Following are his quantities, I think I use fewer potatoes but this is NOT a recipe that needs exact measurements:

          Peel 4-5 potatoes and slice them 1/8" thin on a mandoline.
          Toss in a baking pan with olive oil or melted butter (4 T ), salt and pepper.
          Spread potatoes evenly in the baking pan, bake at 400 degrees for about 40 minutes.
          When the potatoes are tender and just starting to brown, remove from oven.
          Place 1 1/2 pounds of cod fillets on top of the potatoes, drizzle a bit more oil on top and a bit more salt/pepper.
          Broil 6-10 minutes until the fish is cooked, keeping a close eye on it so the potatoes don't burn.

          It's so simple but yummy, the creaminess of the potatoes and cod, slight black pepper bite, plus the crunchiness of the browned parts of the potatoes (which I like to let almost burn).

          Paprika is a really good addition, next time I will try some of your other ingredients to give it a bit of a Catalan vibe.

      2. This sounds pretty good. I love cod when it's really fresh and sweet. Never tried it in a casserole. With potatoes, bacon, saffron and white wine? I'm gonna have to give it a shot.

        1 Reply
        1. re: vvvindaloo

          Yes, well, don't scant the tomatoes, either! And you don't have to use fresh Romas, especially if you're still leery of them - drained canned ones (if in juice, save that to add to the broth at the end, however much is to your taste), or any good garden tomato will work OK. You could also use fresh poblano peppers (sold in California for some strange reason as pasillas), cooked with the onion - most recipes tell you to peel them, but their skin is barely thicker than a bell pepper's, and they really don't need it.

          This puppy will perform no matter how you put it together, just about. There are probably at least as many traditional versions of it as you and I together could possibly think of - it's a food born into a subsistence economy, and has endured precisely because the recipe is so...imprecise. Don't you love it?

        2. Several times I've made something similar, Marmitako, a Basque fisherman's stew (using the recipe in New Spanish Table). It has a similar potato, tomato and pepper base. It calls for tuna in 1" cubes. I used relatively inexpensive frozen aji steaks; but I've also used salmon.