Heston Blumenthal’s Cod with Leek and Potato Sauce won’t win any points for sustainability, but this recipe from Waitrose will help you learn how to cook better fish.
We don’t use twitter nearly as much as we ought to, which is a shame as it often means we miss out on some great info and articles.
One link we were lucky enough not to miss was from cookbook author and blogger Gary Fenn of the well-renowned BigSpud blog. Specifically, a reminder to check out the always-excellent J. Kenji Lopez’s posts on Serious Eats.
Because Serious Eats posts are as sage as they are educational, we connected with their recent observation that being able to cook fish well can be as much of a barrier as being able to source good fish. It’s as true for us as it is for them, and despite The Sound of the Sea being one of Heston Blumenthal’s most famous dishes, he isn’t hugely renowned for his seafood recipes. (Well, apart from that ridiculous 2-day Fish Pie from In Search of Perfection).
Heston’s Cod with Leek and Potato sauce recipe featured both on Waitrose and in 2011 book Heston Blumenthal at Home seems like a safe and easy way to get started. Don’t be deceived though, it’s actually a bit trickier than you might expect.
Recipes: Heston’s Pan Seared Cod with Leek and Potato Sauce recipe
Special Equipment: None
Special Ingredients: None
Time: 1 -2 hours
Here’s a video of Heston making his Cod with Leek and Potato Sauce recipe:
Step 1: Brine the Fish (optional)
The last time we made this recipe was for a catastrophic Mother’s Day meal, when our (past-it’s-best) fish started to disintegrate in the pan.
To avoid a repeat of that disaster we’re gently brining our fish for 30 minutes. According to Modernist Cuisine this will slightly improve the firmness of the flesh. And make me look less cack-handed.
Step 2: Prep Veg
This recipe calls for 160g of leek, which turns out to be a lot more than you’d expect. Leeks are ridiculously massive things, if we want to store them in the salad drawer of the fridge we have to hack the ends off. Yet once washed and trimmed we barely managed the recipe’s required amount from the whopping one we’d bought. If you’re making this buy two leeks to ensure you have enough, but expect there to be some wastage.
Awkward quantities seem to be a feature of this recipe. You also need just one tiny potato and a barely half an onion. The potato needs to be rinsed under cold water to remove the starch.
Step 3: Sweat Onions and Potato
To soften them up the onions and potato need gently cooking for ten minutes.
The leeks, whose flavour is gentler and more easily destroyed by prolonged high heat, get added after that for a further five minutes of cooking.
Step 4: Add Stock, Milk and Cream
At this point add the stock, cook for five minutes, then add the dairy and carry on cooking for a further ten minutes.
It’s this stage that reminded us how fussy and awkward Heston’s Pan Seared Cod with Leek and Potato Sauce recipe can be. On first inspection you feel like you’re getting a chance to flex your gastronomic skills on a recipe with just a few simple ingredients and a cooking-time that’ll fit comfortably into a weeknight.
Forty minutes later and you’re still a few steps from finishing the sauce and you’ve got 285ml of unused whipping cream find a purpose for in the next 72 hours.
Step 5: Blend and Sieve
The final steps for that sauce are to blend it and then sieve it.
The sieving may seem like an optional step, and we’ve always been a bit sceptical – thinking very thorough blending should be enough. But experience has taught us that sieving your sauces really does produce a silkier, more luxurious mouthfeel.
The sauce can be kept warm while you cook the fish and any veg or side dishes.
Step 6: Fry Fish
Finally we get to fry the fish.We’d originally been tempted to sous-vide these fillets then finish them in the pan. Instinct, however, told us this would just mean the flesh just below the surface would become overcooked with its double temperature-exposure.
But we aren’t being crafty and following Kenji’s breadcrumbing trick either. Plain and simple frying as per Heston’s recipe is what we’re going with.
1 – 2 minutes per side is what he recommends. We’re going with 2 minutes on the first side then one minute on the second, our goal being to get some of that crispy golden sear on the flesh like you see on the Roast Turbot they serve at Dinner at the Mandarin Oriental.
Heston suggests a final step of frothing the sauce with a hand blender, but ours was far too thick and soupy for that to work. Just sprinkle it with chives, plate up and serve.
If you can get hold of pea shoots (we couldn’t this time) they make an excellent garnish.
We feel like there’s the potential for a great dish contained in this recipe, but it’s obscured by some of the awkward demands Heston makes of the home cook.
Granted, the whole point of Heston isn’t ease or convenience but quality of results, so it’s essentially foolish for criticising his recipes for user-unfriendliness. On this occasion we feel like the quality of results doesn’t quite justify the effort.
There’s easily enough sauce for 4, not two, and we felt it was far too heavy to suit the fish. It’d make a great beginning for a hearty vegetarian soup or a Cullen Skink, but there’s too much body for it to work alongside the cod. If anything, we’d have preferred to use the discarded potato skins to add earthy flavours to the sauce.
For such a simple-sounding recipe it’s quite time consuming too. Our ingredients photo up there looks almost barren (at least when compared to the shopping required for Heston’s Perfection Chilli Con Carne, which spilled onto the floor). Yet the sauce’s various stages take at least 30 minutes on the stove, and that’s excluding the time it takes to chop your ingredients or get the sieve and blender out of the cupboard.
Heston’s Cod with Leek and Potato sauce is great in principle, and the Cullen Skink flavours pair well with the fish. But we prefer to serve our cod in other ways, and the fiddly and wasteful nature of this dish mean it’s unlikely we’ll be repeating this recipe.
- Leave out the potato to lighten the sauce.
- Cook milk and cream together with the stock to save time.
- Add garlic. We like garlic.
- Just forget making a plated dish and use this as a base for a classic Cullen Skink.
Have you tried making this recipe or do you have a favourite way of preparing cod? Let us know in the comments section below.