It’s not every day that the humble radish, which just happens to be sprouting in my vegetable garden this week, gets the royal treatment. Loved by some but disliked by many, the radish often exists most comfortably in the neglected corners of a crudités plate. But today we’re making it the hero of our dish: it serves not only as the vegetable of this meal but its juice will further function as a light yet super delicious sauce that will absolutely transform today’s catch, a sautéed cod fillet.
When cooked, the radish reveals its identity as part of the cabbage family. But observe the power of the chef: all bitterness and sharpness is gone as soon as it meets the heat of the pan. A warm, delicate and unique flavor develops, not unlike that of a very young turnip (the tiniest of a German gene in you will provide at least some appreciation for turnips; for everyone else, just trust me on this). On top of this special flavor, in conjunction with the cod, the dish could not be healthier. That is, on the condition that you eat only a tiny nibble of the prescribed serving of its side dish, a sinfully voluptuous potato puree.
I buy thick cod fillets whenever I see a fresh delivery in the cooler of my fish monger. The next time you do the same, please try your hand at this pan-roasted cod with radish juice and potato puree.
A few notes before the detailed recipe: First, the mild flavor of cod makes it a delicate fish, and if you overcook it it will disintegrate into white flaky mess. So carefully place the filets with their good side (the side you will present to your guest) into the hot pan and leave them there for a few minutes. Be patient: don’t move them, don’t shake the pan, don’t poke. After 3 to 4 minutes they should have developed a nice crust and you can turn them. But you only get to turn the fish once, so don’t make you move too early.
Now regarding our friend the radish. Once sliced, you are going to blanch them for 30 seconds in boiling, salted water, which to us cooking pros is known as “to anglaise” them. Then, by immediately “shocking” them in ice water, you’ll stop the cooking, which both removes the raw, sharp flavor, and preserves the color. You now have something like a very elegant, young turnip but dressed in a sexy red cocktail skirt.
But it’s the Barbie pink radish juice that is the unexpected highlight of this dish. The limitation here is that its dazzling color—which we loooove—can be ephemeral (that is, fleeting) during the cooking-and-plating process, and will change to a less appetizing grey color if you are not quick on your feet. So be prepared to make the entire process move at a brisk pace. Juicing the radishes, as called by the recipe, must be a last-minute affair. Then, bringing this juice to a boil (see recipe) should be accomplished within a couple of minutes. Once you add butter and season with salt and pepper—Boom!—your sauce is ready and you are nearly ready to serve. Plating and serving promptly will preserve the dazzling color and guarantee the fawning of your dinner guests.
And finally, about our potato puree. Cod and potatoes just like each other. Your favorite potato puree recipe will work great here. I simply rice some cooked Idaho potatoes and add fat-free milk plus a few tablespoons of butter to create a fluffy, smooth, heavenly puree. Steamed potatoes would also work fine here.
I owe this recipe to one of my favorite chefs, Jean-George Vongerichten. He published it in his first, now out of print, cookbook, Simple Cuisine.
- 4 oz thick cod fillet per person (1.5 lb for 4)
- 5 bunches of radishes
- chives, beautifully chopped for presentation
- 2 tbsp butter (for sauce) + a little extra to reheat the radish coins
- 2 tbsp flour
- grapeseed oil or peanut oil
- Prepare the cod filets for sautéing: lightly flour, season with salt and pepper.
- Cut 15-20 of the most beautiful radishes into slices. Blanch for 30 seconds in salted boiling water, then "shock" them in ice water, drain and set aside.
- When you are ready to serve, things happen in parallel and very quickly:
- Heat the pan for the fish with a film of oil. Begin sautéing the cod over medium to medium-high heat.
- While the fish are sautéing, juice the remaining radishes with your trusty electric juicer. You are aiming to have to 2 cups of fragrant, super-pink juice.
- In a pot, quickly bring the radish juice to a boil, then incorporate the butter and season with salt and pepper.
- As soon as the cod has gained a beautiful lightly brown crust, flip and turn heat to low in order to cook the fish gently through; stop when it reaches 110 degrees.
- Reheat the radish coins with a little bit of butter, just to warm them up (radish and butter is one of those flavor combos that the food gods approve of).
- Place the finished fish on plates, arrange the radish slices (see below), pour on the radish juice, and sprinkle with chives.
Once the fish is done, the assembly should be quick. To plate, I like to arrange the radish coins on the fillets to mimic the scales of a fish. You can be less creative (or is it anal?) and instead whimsically sprinkle across your plate. But then you’d be missing out on something fun. So go… creative (just be quick about it!).
Also, I like to warm my plates, so my friends get to enjoy the trifecta of flavors piping hot.
For me this dish is a perfect threesome of flavors. Cod, potato and radish (today’s hero!), all work so well together.