Codfish is called morue in French, and what we call bacalao or salted codfish in the United States is morue salée in French. When I was a child, my mother would occasionally make salted codfish, but more often than not she served fresh cod that she dredged in flour and sautéed in butter. It is the classic fish you will find in bistros throughout France.
Cod is still one of my favorite fish. I like to use cod steaks cut from fillets from the back of the fish, which are thicker (up to 1½ inches and weighing 5 or 6 ounces) than fillets from the belly of the fish. These can be poached, braised, steamed, or baked, and always turn into a wonderfully flaky fish that stays moist even if overdone. Cod is not the type of fish that you want to serve undercooked. It should be cooked just enough so that it barely separates into flakes when served. Similar in texture to scrod and haddock, this versatile fish has larger moist flakes and is very tender.
One of my favorite ways to prepare cod, and a recipe I used to prepare at Gloria’s French Café, the restaurant we operated in Madison, Connecticut, in the early 1980s, was to sauté it and serve it with beurre noisette (nut brown butter), or beurre noir, sometimes called black butter, which gives the fish a wonderful nutty taste. The recipe has capers, red wine vinegar, ground pepper, coarse salt, and a chiffonade of basil on top.
- 4 cod steaks, each 5 or 6 ounces
- 2 tablespoons small drained capers
- ¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Freshly ground pepper
- Coarse sea salt
- Basil, shredded
For four servings, measure out the capers (the larger capers are softer and absorb too much of the vinegar in the jar). Bring a small pot of unsalted water to a boil. When it boils, drop the steaks in and let the water come back to a boil. This will take 3 or 4 minutes. When the water starts boiling, turn off the heat, and let the fish steep in the hot water for 2 to 3 minutes, until it is barely cooked, just enough so that you can see the flakes.
Meanwhile, prepare the butter. Melt the butter in a skillet, and cook until the butter foams and begins to brown. The foam will disappear, and the butter will begin to darken slightly to a darker brown. It is ready.
Drain your fish steaks on paper towels to absorb excess water, and arrange one on each of four warmed dinner plates. Sprinkle the capers on and around the fish, and pour the very hot brown butter on the fish. Pour the red wine vinegar into the hot skillet, and shake it around. Most of it will evaporate, but pour the remainder on the fish. Sprinkle on some freshly ground pepper, a little coarse sea salt, and some shredded basil, and serve right away. This favorite way of serving cod also works well with other fish, from salmon to trout.