Cod basquaise.

Over the past few years my cooking has gone from recipe-following, to recipe-adapting, to recipe-making, and now back full circle to recipe-following.  I feel like I’m honing my skills recipe-following again, and I’m certainly having a lot of fun.  Whereas last year I was constantly trying to forge my own way—starting with a basic recipe and then adapting it until it felt my own—this year I’m opening myself up for instruction, willing to believe that maybe someone out there can cook better than me (shock!), and setting aside that pride thing that has been haunting me for years.  A new year’s resolution of sorts.


It took me a while to realize that I didn’t have to create recipes in order to be a legitimately good cook.  I think this is a problem that a lot of us food bloggers have.  We’re always searching for the next interesting post, trying to set ourselves apart from the others; we want to stake out some space in this game. (And there’s that sticky situation of always posting—some would say copying—recipes that people would otherwise have to buy the whole cookbook for. This issue gets to me now that I’m posting a lot of recipes from current cookbooks. I do believe that my enthusiasm for the cookbooks will help sales more than the recipe posting will reduce them, and that whatever I do affects sales very little… but that could just be an excuse.)  In reality, however, we probably all have a lot to learn from recipes; I know I do.  I don’t cook professionally in a restaurant.  I never had a mentor, or a childhood in Provence, not one single cooking class.  Recipes stand in for the pasta-making Italian grandmother I never had.

Pan roasted cod

So I follow recipes.  Not always diligently, but always thoughtfully.  I heed cook temps, tips, ingredients, while also taking into account my own tastes, my cookware and equipment, and ethical and sustainability issues.  If I have peperonata in the fridge, I’m not about to go out and buy fresh peppers for the cod basquaise recipe I’m following that night.  And while I didn’t make this recipe with cod the first time—the black grouper at the fish market was fresher—I made sure to try it again the next time the cod looked good and, unsurprisingly, it was better made with cod. I’d still make it with a different fish if I had the other ingredients on hand and there was no cod at the market, but I know cod is best.

Cod basquaise

The recipe is from Eric Ripert, and it’s a classic sauce basquaise (peppers, tomato) with the addition of red wine and serrano ham.  The vegetables are cooked until meltingly tender, then braised in the wine for a bit.  The cod is cooked with thyme and garlic for flavor, then served atop the sauce.  It’s robust and wintry, lush with red wine and salty ham.  Like most of Ripert’s simple recipes, it’s easy to think that you wouldn’t need to follow them really, that you could just go with the idea and wing it in your kitchen.  But if you cook the cod just so, use the correct amount of ingredients, and follow the times and simple instructions for cooking the sauce, you can rest assured that the result will be perfect.  I probably would’ve added the red wine too soon had I been going it alone, and the result wouldn’t be as silky. That’s the kind of thing I find so helpful about following recipes. So far, my new year’s resolution has rendered me some fantastic dinners.

Cod basquaise

Cod Basquaise

adapted from Avec Eric

The Basquaise

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup finely diced yellow onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
¼ cup small diced Serrano ham
1 cup leftover peperonata rustica (or 1/2 cup each of chopped red and yellow bell pepper)
1 cup tinned San Marzano tomato, drained, seeded, and diced
½ cup red wine
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper

The Codfish

2 tablespoons canola oil
4 (6-ounce) codfish fillets
2 springs thyme
2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan. Add onion and sweat until tender over medium-low heat. Add garlic and continue cooking until tender; add the ham and peppers. When the peppers are soft, add the tomatoes and simmer, stirring often, over low heat for 20 minutes. Add the red wine and reduce over medium heat until most of the liquid had evaporated. Stir in the chopped parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper. This can be done the day before.

Heat a pan until very hot, add the canola oil. Season the codfish on both sides with salt and pepper. Add the codfish to the pan and sauté until the fish is golden brown on the bottom along with the thyme and garlic, about 6-8 minutes, rubbing the garlic against the fish a few times, lowering the heat if necessary to prevent from burning. Turn the fish over and finish cooking the fish for another 2-3 minutes, until a metal skewer can be easily inserted into the fish and, when left in for 5 seconds, feels just warm when touched to the lip.

Spoon basquaise onto plates, place sautéed cod in the center and serve immediately.

38 thoughts on “Cod basquaise.”

  1. …just caught onto the fact your first two recipes of the new year are caviar and codfish. nice 😉

    the last photo is my favorite. it’s very beautiful. and i agree i feel weird sometimes posting recipes that are not my own, but i believe in them and want others to discover for themselves. so i hope my own introductions will lead to new followers for cooks i admire. and thank you for this introduction.

    1. Ha! Yes, I was hoping someone would notice that Brie! 😀

      Thank you for the photo compliment. And I really do believe that bloggers help people find new recipes/cookbooks; I just hope publishers feel the same way!

  2. When you have a “grandma” like Eric Ripert you don’t need to improvise or make the recipe better 😉
    The pictures you took make me want to have that cod right now if it weren’t for the fact that I was already making spaghetti with amatriciana sauce!

    1. Ha! I hadn’t really pictured Eric Ripert as my symbolic grandma when righting the post—but now can’t get that silly image out of my head!

  3. interesting. i’m definitely in the recipe adapting stage. i feel like i have the confidence now to just wing things but i see what you’re saying about following recipes to a T to really learn how to execute dishes perfectly.

  4. Lovely – there are a handful of one-name masters who I don’t dare “adapt” – Ripert, Boulud, Robuchon. However, I think there are some “chefs” who write cookbooks for the masses – – – those recipes can generally handle a little more garlic, a little more spice, a little more caramalization.

  5. I loved Eric’s show. I hope it gets picked up for another season. Nice to have a cooking show that’s elegant, thoughtful, and intelligent for once. I remember him making this dish and just wishing I had Smell-O-Vision on my TV. 😉

    1. Oh, jeez, me too. I hadn’t even thought of it not getting picked up! That would be disastrous, seeing that he’s provided me with fantastic dinner upon dinner this year!

  6. I love what you’ve said here – something so many of us are thinking but haven’t put in words. I agree completely.

    For me, seeing process photos and how the finished dish looks, as well as notes and commentary from the cook is kind of *like* being in Mom or Grandma’s kitchen. Sure you might be following a recipe, but the information we get from reading your posts and your insights is much more than just that original list of ingredients and techniques.

    That being said, following other bloggers has introduced me to many wonderful cookbooks and cooks whom I wouldn’t otherwise know about.

    So keep on recipe-following! And we’ll keep on following you 😉

  7. I’m an admitted recipe follower rather than recipe maker most of the time. I sometimes find myself wanting to follow a recipe exactly even when something seems off. So, from now on, it will be thoughtful recipe following. Your cod basquaise looks amazing. I have to try this!

  8. I couldn’t agree with you more, there’s always so much emphasis on creating your own original recipes but I to love following the recipes of others and making a few adaptations here and there.

    Ahhh…the competitiveness and challenges of food blogging are endless which is why I don’t blog anymore, just contribute to other food sites, but yours is a standout that I thoroughly enjoy.

    Happy New Year!

    1. Good for you, not blogging if you aren’t feelin’ it anymore. I spent a while taking the blog easy, only posting every once in a while, and it was rejuvenating. 🙂 Glad you are still out there in the food blog world, however you do it.

  9. Thoughtful and well-stated comments on blogging and cooking — and I think even Ripert would have to admit that your interpretation of Cod Basquaise is drool-worthy!.

  10. I clicked on your blog this afternoon and that first shot, in the big pot, almost made me fall out of my chair. And I’m not even hungry. But wow, gorgeous. And a gorgeous recipe, too, no matter where you got it. Listen, after all these years, I still follow recipes like crazy. I’m making something out of the latest issue of FINE COOKING tonight. If someone else has gone to the trouble to test and retest a recipe, why shouldn’t I make it as well?

    1. Thanks, Mark, your comment made my day. And what you said about recipe testing is well put–I don’t think I’ll ever stop following great recipes.

  11. Absolutely beautiful photos and that cod looks just perfect…I love your thoughts on recipes and completely agree. I’ve been visiting your blog a lot lately and really enjoy it- keep up the lovely work!

  12. i understand your dilemma. the thing is, recipes teach us how to cook better. the beauty of having a book written by ripert helps us get into the mind of a genius so we can (maybe) have some of that creativity rubbed off on us. i use good cookbooks for inspiration. the ones i love the best i follow and make. but often it springs all these other ideas for dishes. here are many dishes you just shouldn’t f-with. when a great cook does it, why do it any other way? this looks amazing. and you are a good food blogger b/c you take pride in what you cook and you are interesting – whether you use a cookbook or create your own recipes, you’re doing good things. so keep up the good work and feel good about what you’ve got on C&C! happy 2010.

  13. I know exactly what you mean in terms of the follow recipes-adapt recipes-make your own recipes cycle. I feel the same way: it’s good to be creative, but how will I ever actually improve my culinary skills if I don’t try to learn a thing or two from the experts? I’ve never heard of a blogger getting in trouble for posting a recipe from a cookbook on their blog, but who knows? I know that some bloggers are just against it altogether, but I tend to agree more with you. If I try a fantastic recipe from a cookbook and fall completely in love with it, I’ll probably buy the book. If I found the recipe on a blog, it’s thanks to that blog that I bought the book!

  14. Please can you tell me why you (or your adopted grandmother) choose to use “canola” oil? Fortunately for me, it is unavailable here, so I will have no decision to make and I will use olive oil. But I have to say that I can smell and taste conventional rapeseed oil (and rapeseed honey) and I dislike them. Now this Canadian variety may be interesting, but why replace the olive oil that would certainly be the original oil in the (Basque? I’m assuming) recipe? Is it much cheaper? I cannot believe it is much better. And until I get some of this Canadian variety, I won’t know what it tastes like. But I’m just asking. ?

    1. Excellent question! Answer: olive oil burns at a low temperature and should never be used for any kind of high heat cooking. This tip comes from Keller’s Ad Hoc. Robin obviously learns a whole lot more from these books than I do — I only get what she passes along — but I don’t think I’ll be going too far out on a limb when I say that this has been one of the most valuable cooking tips either of has learned in the past year. It’s made a huge difference. Our pan fried proteins taste much better, and with the money we save we buy better olive oil to finish the dishes.

      1. Okay…thank you. I shall ruminate on this a lot. And research. It is true I buy sunflower oil as a kitchen staple in addition to olive oil. I don’t think I’d call “sauté-ing” “high heat cooking”. That is, I wouldn’t look at the frying of the cod in this recipe the way I’d look at the deep-frying of battered or breaded fish of the fish’n’chips sort. Of course, as I say, no Canadian varieties of rapeseed oil are going to turn up in my local shops. So that particular choice isn’t going to affect me. Are you telling me: “and with the money we save…” that this Canadian oil variety really is much cheaper? Cheaper than sunflower oil? Obviously I must now do some research on the burning temperatures of variousl oils (sorry: I make chips = french fries in olive oil. And sometimes in goose fat and sometimes in duck fat. All yum and never burnt so far). It’s a minefield, obviously. Thank you. I may get back to you. Keep eating!

        1. Hi Catanea, Jim summed up the reasoning for canola oil very well (thanks, Jimmy!) but I just want to add that the low burning temp of olive oil won’t make the oil blacken and burn, or anything like that, but it will have a slightly off and bitter taste after the oil is heated past a certain temp. We detected this taste (after learning about it) in our fish and it is not present when we cook with canola oil. You could also use grapeseed oil (is that the same thing as rapeseed oil?) And yes, canola oil is a lot cheaper than the olive oil we were using to cook with (which wasn’t the cheapest we could find, but wasn’t too expensive either.) Now we buy $30-$40 bottles of the good olive oil and use it to finish and for dressings and such.

          1. Wow! What sort of size is a $30 – $40 bottle of olive oil? I THINK “grapeseed” oil is really from grape pips (I have a bottle, and it has a picture of grapes on it – actually it’s “huile de pépin de raisin”). Rapeseed is from “oilseed rape” – a plant that is somehow (to me) a very ugly colour of yellow when in blossom. But maybe this special Canadian version is different. I will try to be attentive for this bitterness in olive oil. I have noticed bitterness if I actually BROWN a garlic clove in olive oil, so I just never do that. Thank-you for all the information!

          2. Wow, thanks, Bruessel. I’d no idea canola was rapeseed. I love those yellow fields, myself. This is all very useful information, I’ll try to act on it. When I was in Italy once, I was told that you ought to buy the most expensive olive oil you can afford for pouring on things cold, and the cheapest you can find to cook in (because the flavor gets destroyed, I guess).

  15. I certainly relate to your statement: ‘Recipes stand in for the pasta-making Italian grandmother I never had.’ So true for me as well! Also, I find following recipes helps me to trust my instincts more – when I follow a recipe and my gut tells me it isn’t going to work, and it doesn’t work, I learn! But then, of course, when I try something new in a recipe and it DOES work when I didn’t expect it to, I get such a thrill.
    Love your blog 🙂

  16. bruessel: No, I wasn’t kidding, just not thinking since it was 8pm and I was still at work, and didn’t bother to look up something I had never really considered before. But after rereading Catanea’s comment, did look it up, and found the wiki articles. But thanks for posting the rapeseed one here.

    Catanea: I like Frantoia and Novello Di Macina olive oils. The Frantoia is more “olive oil” tasting, the Novello is subtler and very fresh tasting.

  17. I’ve never tried any of Eric’s recipes, but this sure works. and I appreciate your approach to cooking recipes in terms of adapting, making, following, etc… no need to run out to store if you have something similar at home!

    Your version came out beautifully!

  18. I’ve gone through these cycles as well. Usually I start with a recipe I feel good about and adapt in later preparations. I struggle with knowing at what point a recipe has truly become mine? When I change three proportions and add an ingredient or when I mix two different recipes to concoct a whole new kind of creation (especially applicable in desserts)? In the end, the final product is what matters, I suppose, regardless who wrote the recipe.

  19. Yes, this topic is now obsolescent…but nonetheless, my research on the various types of rapeseed oil (including “Canola” oil) are depressing me. Especially the part that says 89% of “Canola” oil is genetically modified.
    I think I’d rather use bacon grease. (Delicious).
    Sometimes we are vegetarians for a year or more. We like “Carthame” oil. But now I’m going to have to research that, too. Because you cannot trust marketers, at all.
    Good luck.

    1. I imagine that organic canola oil is better than most brands. Considering canola oil has a lot of the “good fats”, it’s our go to oil usually. I try and buy organic, but don’t always do so (really should try more.) Grapeseed oil has less of the good, monounsaturated fat, and more of the bad, saturated fat than canola. And olive oil more monounsaturated and saturated than canola, but when it passes its smoking point and burns, is thought to be carcinogenic. I’d never use canola for drizzling over things, always olive oil or something else tasty. I’ve used bacon grease in a salad vinaigrette before and that was, of course, delicious.

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