Thursday, June 10, 2010

(Unintentionally) Smoked Cod

Tonight's recipe was a series of firsts for me. It was the first time I've ever cooked with curry powder. It was also the first time I've ever cooked any type of fish not in the "stick" family. In addition to all of these firsts, it was also the first time I've ever pan-fried any food.

Pan-frying is the process of cooking an item in a frying pan of hot oil and spooning said hot oil over the dish constantly to create a crispy outside finish. Pan-frying is supposed to speed up the cooking process (taking only 3 to 5 minutes in this recipe's case) and is SUPPOSED to be relatively simple. I didn't have such luck tonight.

The Recipe: Pan-Fried Curried Cod
Original Recipe Found In: Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals

What You'll Need:

2X 7 oz. Cod Fillets
3 Tbsp. Mild Curry Powder
1 Pat of Butter
1 Cup White Rice (Optional)

If you're opting to cook the dish with a side of rice, begin by brining a small pot of water to a boil and cook the rice according the directions on the package.

Next, place your curry powder on a small plate and roll each cod fillet in the powder until they are evenly coated. (Since I didn't have fresh cilantro (I had dried) I went ahead and added that to the powder as well. If you DO have fresh cilantro, you can add it at the very end of the recipe.) Tonight's dish immediately went off the rails for me right here. To give you a full picture of all the mishaps leading up to tonight's dish - I'll have to take you back to Monday of this week. We were shopping at our local Hy-Vee, searching for some fresh cod. As it turns out, fresh cod is currently priced at about $11 per pound. Ouch. (That's salmon prices folks - and cod sure as heck isn't salmon).

My curry/cilantro blend

Rather than spend a good percentage of our overall grocery bill on one meal - we opted to turn down the frozen isle. Hy-Vee carries a line of fresh frozen fish (they are 'flash frozen' which means they are frozen within 24 hours of being caught - it's supposed to keep they food as fresh as a 'just caught' fish and keep the prices down). Luckily, they have cod in their 'flash frozen' selection. (At a much more reasonable $7 for two fillets).

Our "fresh" cod fillets

Upon returning home, I wanted to store the cod in the refrigerator - so they would be ready to go for Thursday (today). However, the instructions on the back said "KEEP FROZEN UNTIL READY TO PREPARE" so, I placed the bag in the freezer and didn't think of it again until tonight.

When I took the bag out of the freezer, I noticed the fine print way down at the bottom of the bag "Remove from freezer 4 to 6 hours before cooking".


Apparently their definition of "keep frozen until ready to prepare" is different than mine. In their definition, you are supposed to read "ready to prepare" as "the morning before". So, I was forced to improvise and place the fillets in the microwave to thaw (We have a 'fish' setting on our microwave, so I figured the day would be saved.)

With my now not-so-frozen cod fillets, I placed them in my plate of curry powder to cover...only to find that the ever so slight moisture on the 15% frozen cod fillet caused the curry powder to turn to curry paste. Now, instead of lightly coating the fillet, I was essentially smearing a sticky paste all over the fish. Once again, I assumed that as long as I had the fillet coated, it would be alright. So, I simply worked with what I had, and covered the fillets in a very mud like curry powder  paste.

Now, bring a large frying pan to (as Jamie Oliver puts it "Screaming Hot" - I took that to mean 'very warm') and add a pat of butter and two lugs of olive oil. STOP. RIGHT. THERE. I don't know if this was a typo on Jamie's part or if I just messed up beyond belief, but DO NOT ADD THE BUTTER FIRST. I know the recipe says butter first, the recipe is wrong. If you add the butter first to your 'screaming hot' pan - you WILL cause the butter to INSTANTLY burn. This will create a black liquid substance all over the pan and (more importantly) throw large clouds of smoke all about your kitchen. Trust me...I learned this lesson the hard way.

After washing out the pan, opening a window and turning on the exhaust fan - I returned to the kitchen. In my hot pan, I poured two lugs of olive oil THEN the butter. No flames. No smoke, only a nice bubbling oil mixture. If you're planning on attempting this recipe - remember. Oil, then butter.

Now, add your cod fillets to the pan. Your goal here is to pour spoonfuls of oil over the fillets as the cook. You can do this by tilting the pan slightly so the oil runs to one side. Spoon the oil over the fillets every 30 seconds or so and cook for about 5 minutes. Be sure to flip the fillets halfway through cooking to ensure an even cook.

Pan frying gone wrong...very wrong

Once again, I ran into a disaster here. Since my curry powder coating was less "dusting of powder" and move "smearing of paste" it wasn't attached to the fillet as well. As such, when I spooned oil over the fillet, rather than getting a crispy outer skin, I received washed off curry powder. (As you can see, I just wasn't having any luck tonight.) At this point, I gave up trying to achieve the end result in the cookbook, and instead turned to salvaging the fillets as best as I could. I continued to spoon the oil (and washed off curry paste) over the fillets, hoping to at the very least end up with lightly curry flavored fillets.

After about 10 minutes of cooking (longer cooking time due to the slightly frozen nature of my fish) I was finished. I set the fillet on top of few spoonfuls of white rice, garnished with a lemon and served.

The Results:

After all of the disasters in tonight's recipe, you would expect the dish to have come off subpar. Surprisingly the dish turned out quite well! Since I stuck with the pan-frying technique, I managed to get a slight crispy outer layer on the fillets. As I spooned the powder back over the fillets, some began to stick and the hot oil seared it onto the fillet. As a result I still ended up with a slightly crispy cod fillet.

This method of cooking makes the cod VERY tender. It was nearly falling apart as I took it from the pan and it simply melted in our mouths. The curry powder was a little on the spicy side, but the white rice balanced it out nicely. I also squeezed a little of the lemon juice on top of the fillet - this added an extra little flair of flavor that really brought everything together.

All in all, despite the constant challenges of tonight's dinner - we ended up with a nice dish. I would really like to return to this and try it again with non-moist cod fillets and see if I can have a better end result. Once again, I ended up with something that didn't LOOK anything like the end picture in the cookbook. However, the end result tasted great, and in the long run, that's all that really matters anyway. This biggest lesson taken from tonight's meal was this - even if EVERYTHING seems to be going wrong, stick with it. You just might end up with a tasty end result anyway.

That's all we have for you tonight. We're traveling this weekend and will be off until monday. So, no Saturday feature this weekend. (You never know, I might still pop in a put up a quick post this weekend, it depends if I find the time.) Scratch that, as you've seen in the "Site Update 2.0!!" post, I'm planning something for Saturday. Thank you all for stopping by this evening, and, until next time -


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