This picture perfect dish was my lunch today. I must confess that I am not the chef. Friends Meredith and Gary invited me to their Sooke acreage for lunch. The drive from Victoria is intoxicating as it winds through rocky mixed coniferous and deciduous forests and eventually exposing peek-a-boo views of harbours and inlets along the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
I always feel recharged when I visit. Their quaint home lies in a cozy clearing surrounded by forest and gardens providing complete privacy. The Sooke River is the back boundary of their plot. Water is a calming feature and a reminder of life, Mother Nature and the seasons. Growing up on the farm one of my favourite summer vacation diversions was to bicycle to the creek about three miles down the road. By the end of harvest it was barely a trickle in contrast to the overflowing banks in spring.
I am envious of the bay tree and fresh plucked leaves anytime they are called for. Meredith and Gary have lived here for a very long time and together have created this respite from the world. Meredith asked for a bay leaf and Gary came back from the garden with fresh thyme. I was perplexed. After pulling the leaves from the stems and adding them to the poaching liquid Meredith added bay leaves. I pondered this throughout the leisurely meal and after until I realized that after many years of marriage, raising a family and lovingly maintaining their home, perhaps they sometimes work together as one. Obviously Gary knew she had bay leaves already but no thyme so, of course he picked thyme. Either that or I completely missed something.
Meredith carefully followed the recipe from the folded magazine and checked from time to time when I would have thrown it all together. The result was perfection. I had to find this recipe and save it. Although the fresh fish and seafood are not always available where I live I think that frozen cod would be acceptable. The clams not so much so but the dish would still be lovely even without clams.
An added bonus for me was to be able to take pictures with a fully set table. I rarely have that opportunity. It makes for an interesting photograph and allows for different shooting angles with background interest.
As an aside, if you are dreaming of visiting Vancouver Island this is a beautiful spot to spend a week. Gary and Meredith have a private totally equipped cottage on their property that they rent out. So if you would be romanced by a quaint cottage in the woods backing onto a river within a five minute drive to the beaches on the Strait of Juan de Fuca and 40 minutes to the city, make a note of this.
Poached Cod with Pernod Saffron Broth adapted from Fine Cooking
4 5-oz. cod fillets (preferably 1 inch thick)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb (about 3/4 lb.), trimmed (leave core intact) and cut into 1/2-inch wedges, plus 1 tbsp. chopped fronds
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 medium-large shallot, chopped
2 8-oz. bottles clam juice
8 oz. small baby red or fingerling potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into 1/8-inch-thick coins, ends discarded (about 6 potatoes)
1 large tomato, cut into small dice (12 oz., about 1-1/2 cups)
2 tbsp. anisette liqueur, such as Pernod or Sambuca
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig fresh thyme
1/4 tsp. roughly chopped or coarsely ground fennel seed
A generous pinch of saffron, crumbled (about 25 threads)
12 littleneck clams, scrubbed
1-1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
Heat the olive oil in a 12-inch ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fennel, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and pepper and brown on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the fennel to a plate. Put the pan over low heat and add the garlic, shallot, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, stirring, until just softened, 1 to 2 minutes.
With a slotted spatula, transfer the cod to 4 shallow bowls. Bring the braising liquid, clams, and vegetables to a brisk simmer on top of the stove, cover the pan, and cook until the clams are opened and the vegetables are tender, 3 to 6 minutes more. Divide the opened clams (discard any unopened ones) and vegetables among the bowls. Add the fennel fronds and parsley to the braising liquid in the pan. Bring to a simmer and pour over the fish and vegetables.
Crusty garlic bread served alongside is perfect for soaking up the flavorful sauce.