Cod Véronique – crispy skinned fillets of flakey cod with the classic creamy vermouth and grape sauce.
Like a lot of Irish chefs my age I was classically trained. Any chef who’s been to catering college here might remember been thought some of the delicious famous French classics like bouillabaisse, gratin dauphinois, or bœuf bourguignon.
Learning the classics is a great way to teach young chefs how to cook. Not only do you learn how to make some great tasting food, but more importantly you learn the cookery method behind each dish.
If you know how to make a bœuf bourguignon than you know how to make a coq au vin or any type of stew. After you know how to make creme anglaise than you’re only a step away from creme caramel, creme brulee, or indeed any type of ice cream.
The classics are an integral part of a culinary education. They give young chefs a good foundation. Once you’ve learnt the techniques and methods behind them, than you can go on and become more creative with your cooking.
When it comes to fish though it seems I’ve not been a very good student. With the exception of bouillabaisse I seem to have forgotten most of the fish dishes I learnt at culinary school. One dish that does stand out in my memory is the classic sole veronique.
The history surrounding sole veronique is a bit sketchy. Despite scouring google and looking through the great culinary encyclopedia larousse gastronomique the best info I came up with was that the dish was invented by the great Escoffier to celebrate a famous opera of the same name.
There are plenty of recipes for it out there in cyberspace and in cookbooks though. Nobody however, can seem to agree on the exact recipe and each one I came across had a very different list of ingredients. Garlic, shallots, dill, fennel, lemon, tarragon, thyme…..and on and on. The only constant where cream and of course grapes.
Like a lot of the classics sole veronique could do with a bit of modernisation. It’s a dish I wanted to cook for a while, the last time I made it was back in culinary school and I’ve never seen in on a menu anywhere. I wanted to put my own stamp on it, give it my own little twist, it’s something I enjoy doing with old recipes.
Down the fishmongers though it was “sorry, no black sole today mate” not even the cheaper megrim or lemon where available. There was some nice looking cod though. So cod veronique it is….
Most veronique recipes go something like this. Place the fish in a buttered dish and poach it in the oven with white wine and maybe some herbs. When the fish is cooked remove it from the oven and kept it warm. Bring the cooking liquor to the boil, add the cream and finish with the grapes…..simple enough.
I wanted to stay as true to the original method as possible but cooking the cod in the oven like this would mean a soggy skin. I wanted it crispy, golden brown, and crunchy. One of the joys of eating a piece of pan-fried fish is the contrast in textures between the crispy skin and the soft melting flesh underneath.
To get a crispy result give the cod skin a quick dip in some seasoned flour. Than slowly roast it skin side down in a non stick pan with a little olive oil over a moderate heat. Once the skin is good and crisp remove it from the pan, we’ll finish cooking it later in the sauce.
The classic veronique sauce sounds quite rich and maybe a little plain tasting to me. Most recipes call for white wine, cream, and grapes. I really wanted to add some depth and contrasting flavours.
To do this first soak some golden raisins in vermouth (i used noilly prat) till they have swelled up nice and plump absorbing some of its sweet floral flavour. You’ll have plenty of time to give them a good soak while you blanch, refresh and peel the grapes.
This is a bit of a tedious job, one that I would have happily delegated to a commis chef if there were any around the kitchen at home. You don’t have to peel the grapes but it’s worth the effort. You end up with soft, green pearls of sweetness running through the sauce.
Once you’re happy with the cod’s crispy skin and you’ve removed it from the heat just drain the noilly prat from the swollen golden raisins and use it to deglaze the pan. Next add the fish stock and reduce it down by half.
The cream goes in next but I’m using less than half of what you’d see in most recipes. Instead I opted to use some creme fraiche to finish the sauce. Its natural acidity works really well with the flakey flesh of cod and the sweet tasting raisins and grapes which go in later. Escoffier probably would’ve used it if it was more common around kitchens in his day.
Now add the crispy cod fillets back to the sauce and allow it to bubble away gently for a couple of minutes so the fish can finish off cooking. Than just throw in the soaked golden raisins and peeled grapes along with some sprigs of tarragon for a hint of liquorice and a couple of teaspoons of capers to add a natural saltiness. Give it a quick taste and maybe add a squeeze of lemon, a turn of black pepper, or a pinch of salt and you’re good to go.
Apart from peeling the grapes cod veronique is quite quick to knock up and the best part is it’s a one pan job on the top of the stove. I’m looking forward to giving this recipe a go with black sole when I can get my hands on some.
It would work with most types of white fish though. What will you make?….maybe a hake veronique? or haddock? or whiting? or monkfish?
Place the golden raisins in a bowl and pour over the vermouth. Allow the raisins to soak in the vermouth for about 30 minutes.
While the raisins are soaking, dip the grapes into some boiling water and cook for 5 seconds before quickly refreshing them in cold icy water. Than drain them off and remove the skin with your small paring knife, if should come off quite easily.
Give the cod skin a quick dip in the seasoned flour. Than slowly roast it skin side down in a non stick pan with the olive oil over a moderate heat. Once the skin is good and crisp remove it from the pan.
Next drain the raisins from the vermouth and use it to deglaze the pan you cooked the cod in. Pour in your fish stock and reduce the sauce down by a half.
Add in the cream and bring the sauce back up to the boil then whisk in the creme fraiche.
Return the cod to the sauce and allow it to finish cooking for about 2 minutes. Than finish the sauce with the soaked raisins, peeled grapes, baby capers, and tarragon.
Place the each of the four cod fillet in the center of each plate and spoon the sauce around.