I first cooked this herb crusted cod a few weeks ago and since I’ve probably driven G to distraction cooking it again and again. It’s a perfect combination of soft, subtle cod with a crunchy and pungent herb topping, the sweet flavours of the purée and vegetables making for a light and intensely satisfying dish. However, I kept tinkering – The herb crust wasn’t quite right, should it be crunchier? Are fresh breadcrumbs better than dried? Should I cook the cod in the oven or a pan? What’s the right kind of carrot to use, and is it better cooked in a pan or vacuum packed? Is it actually better with butternut squash not carrot? How finely should I shred the cabbage to make sure it cooks in the same time as the sweetcorn? Is Sweetheart cabbage better than Savoy? Through this process I found out three things.
- It doesn’t matter really, it’s always delicious
- The whole meal takes less than 30 minutes start to finish and can be paused in such a way that it will take 10 minutes to finish
- You can have too much of a good thing
People get scared of cooking fish. I know because I used to be a bit scared of it. What if I overcook it and it’s dry and mealy? What if I undercook it and it’s inedible? Also, don’t you have to cook it just at the last minute and then eat it immediately which makes it a nightmare if guests are around? Well this recipe is here to help, after cooking this cod I hope you’ll see that it really doesn’t have to be scary. The herb crusted cod is protected from the heat allowing it to cook very gently in the oven. This means that whilst normally you might only have 30 seconds leeway in the cooking time, now you have a few minutes and although that doesn’t sound like much it makes all the difference.
Like always, I think it’s important to know how you can plan this ahead, whether it’s a few days ahead or only just getting everything ready earlier in the day to get rid of any stress! The breadcrumb mix can be made a couple of days in advance (I normally only do it a few hours in advance though) and the sweetcorn and cabbage only takes 5 minutes to cook, but you should definitely do the prep (chopping) in advance. The carrot (or butternut squash) purée can be made up to a week in advance.
In fact, I’d like to talk about the purée a little bit. In addition to this herb crusted cod dish, I’ve posted recipes combining fish with a vegetable purée before – most notably monkfish with spiced farro, pea and carrot purée and lemon sole with caramelised onion purée. In general I think a really good vegetable purée can act like a sauce on the plate. If you don’t overcook the vegetables and season it well you end up with a vibrant complementary flavour without either the hassle or often overbearing nature of many sauces. They’re also super easy to make in a slightly larger quantity and then re-use during the week, perhaps in this butternut squash risotto (or any other vegetable risotto made in the same way!).
As I mentioned above, I tried lots of different versions of this dish – I decided the best breadcrumbs to use were slightly old bread with the crusts removed and blitzed in the food processor – but it works equally well with dried panko so just use whatever you have. I really like the combination of basil and parsley with a little tarragon but you could just as easily use coriander instead of the parsley or leave out the basil or tarragon. Just try and use soft herbs and not woody ones like rosemary or thyme. I prefer carrot purée but butternut squash works really well too. Sweetcorn and cabbage are my favourites (I’ve used them before like this) I even tried using hake or another firm white fish instead of cod – that works but I would stick to cod if you can (you can’t change everything you know!).
Herb crusted cod with carrots, cabbage and sweetcorn
Bonus recipes for the carrot purée and cabbage and sweetcorn below
Ingredients (for the herb crusted cod):
- 4 cod fillets
- 100g breadcrumbs (fresh or dried)
- 1 large handful each of basil and parsley
- 6 tarragon leaves (may not seem like much but the flavour is strong)
- 1 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/2 tablespoon of good quality olive oil
- Optional: 25g finely grated parmesan cheese (I use a microplane)
- Salt the cod fillets all over and set aside for ten minutes. Whilst the salt is working on the cod prepare the other ingredients. You want the cod to reach close to room temperature ideally before cooking
- Preheat oven to 210 degrees celsius
- Place the herbs in a food processor and pulse several times until finely chopped. Add the olive oil and breadcrumbs and if using the parmesan cheese. Pulse to combine and season lightly with salt and black pepper – the mixture should be a vibrant green.
- Spread the dijon mustard on the top side of the fish to allow the breadcrumbs to adhere. Press the breadcrumb mixture onto the fish and place the herb crusted cod fillets on a roasting tray lined with silicone paper (greaseproof/foil works as well). Make sure the breadcrumb side is facing away from the tray.
- Roast in the oven for 15 minutes – the fish should be just cooked and the breadcrumbs golden and crispy. Depending on the size of the fish fillet, the heat of your oven and the temperature of the fish before going into the oven it could take from 13-20 minutes. It’s best to check every 2-3 minutes after about 12 minutes of cooking.
Carrot purée: (Goes really well with the herb crusted cod)
- 500g carrots peeled and sliced into rounds
- 35g unsalted butter
- 1/2 tablespoon water (not necessary but if you’re worried about burning)
- A few good pinches of sea salt
- Black pepper
- Place a heavy bottomed pan with a tight fitting lid over a low heat and place the butter inside to melt.
- Add the carrot rounds and toss until coated in the melted butter. if using add the water. Season liberally with sea salt and pepper, place the lid on the pot and leave to cook for 20-30 minutes. Do not remove the lid for at least the first 20 minutes.
- Test the carrots for doneness, they should be soft without being mushy. Transfer to a blender and blend on high until smooth. Pass through a sieve if you want it ultra smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning – I find that black pepper really enhances the flavour. You may also find that adding a small knob of cold butter and emulsifying it in with the blender improves the flavour. Make sure you have added enough salt, if you’re not sure remove a spoonful and add a little more salt to that and taste. The salt will continue to enhance the carrot flavour right until the point where you can suddenly taste the salt and it’s too salty.
- Cover in cling film and store in the fridge for up to a week.
- To serve simply gently reheat in a saucepan over a low heat and then place a circle of purée in the centre of the plate and rest the herb crusted cod on top.
For the cabbage and sweetcorn
- A knob of butter
- 2 sweetcorn cobs
- Half of a sweetheart cabbage (also known as a pointed cabbage). Savoy works well as well but don’t use red cabbage.
- Finely chiffonade (shred) the cabbage. This is best done by discarded the dark green outer leaves and then removing the remaining leaves one by one. Slice out the stalk of the leaves and place the leaves on top of each other. Roll up into a cigar and cut across as finely as you can.
- Slice the sweetcorn kernels from the cobs
- Place a saucepan on a medium heat and melt the butter, add the cabbage and sweetcorn and cook gently for 5 minutes stirring with a metal spoon. Season with salt and serve.