Cod has been a food staple in many cultures.  It’s a mild and versatile fish that can be prepared in many different ways.

One of my favorite ways of cooking cod is braising.  During braising, its dense and lean flesh becomes moist and flaky, and readily absorbs the flavors of other ingredients in the braising liquid.

When you braise it with sliced fennel, tomatoes, capers, and olive oil, the dish would sing in Italian.

Or, if you wish, you could give it a Spanish twist by adding saffron, pimenton, and sherry vinegar to the braising liquid.

Or, do as the Koreans do, by braising it with gochujang, sugar, and sesame oil.  Want it really spicy?  Add extra gochugaru!

You see, your choices are only limited by your imagination…

The dish I’m introducing today will transport you to Hunan province in China if you do have a good imagination.  The recipe uses pickled chile peppers (duo jiao, 剁椒), which are a signature flavoring ingredient in Hunan cuisine.  They bring to a dish not only their wonderfully piquant, sweet, salty, and sour flavors, but also a vibrant color one could not resist.

A few drops of tea seed oil would be a nice finishing touch to the dish.  Also known as camellia oil, tea seed oil (cha zi you, 茶籽油) is another distinctive ingredient used frequently in Hunan cooking.  It gives a dish a nice herbal aroma and earthy tone.  You can find tea seed oil in some Asian grocery stores.

Besides cod, other varieties of fish in the same family, such as haddock or hake, work equally well for this recipe.

 

Braised cod with pickled chile peppers and tea seed oil

Makes 2 servings 

Ingredients: 

Two 6 oz (170 g) cod fillets
2 tablespoons pickled chile peppers, roughly chopped
8 fl oz (235 ml) clam juice, chicken stock, or water
2 gloves garlic, minced
One 1-inch piece ginger, minced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1/8 teaspoon Zhenjiang (Chinkiang) vinegar
Pinch of sugar
Cornstarch, for coating the fillets
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon tea seed oil, optional
Salt and freshly ground white pepper

Procedure

  1. Pat the fillets dry.  Season with salt and coat with a thin layer of cornstarch.  Heat the vegetable oil in a hot wok or skillet over medium-high heat.  Sear the fillets until golden brown on both sides.  Transfer them to a plate.
  2. Add the garlic and ginger to the same wok and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds.  Add the pickled chile peppers.  Stir and cook for another 15 seconds.  Pour in the clam juice and return the fillets to the wok.
  3. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the fish is just cooked through and turned flaky.  Add the vinegar and sugar and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
  4. Garnish with the scallions and serve immediately.
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