Smoked cod and potato soup
Traditions create memories, memories create traditions. It’s the ultimate closed-loop system. What has become a favourite tradition of mine brings back a particularly horrid childhood memory. My mother has always been a very keen and very good cook, but there is one meal that stands out as being completely awful.
I must have been only six or seven, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. I recall vividly the amount of times I lifted my little paper serviette to my mouth, where, instead of wiping my lips, I was trying desperately to spit out the contents of my mouth. What was this dinner? Smoked cod.
I remember nothing more. Not if I got into trouble for not eating my dinner. Not what happened to the heavy and mushy serviette. Just the smell and the taste of that fish.
That almost fluorescent orange fish seems to bring back memories for many and, like mine, they are not always good memories. Fast forward a dozen or so years and I had become an apprentice chef at Stephanie’s. A dish appeared on the menu that brought a shudder to my culinary soul. It was a play on a classic brandade of cod, but instead of using salted, dried cod, Stephanie used smoked cod. The cod was poached, flaked through rich mashed potato, sandwiched in a crisp puff pastry shell, then topped with a poached egg and a nape of Hollandaise sauce. It was sublime and forever changed my thoughts about smoked cod.
Let’s move forward another dozen years or so, and there I am in my own fledgling restaurant, grappling with what to cook for Good Friday. For some reason I chose a smoked cod and potato soup to start the meal. It has become my favourite Easter tradition and one of my favourite soups. The flavour exchange between the cod, potatoes and garlic is one of life’s great pleasures and brings a richness to the somewhat sombre Good Friday offerings.
Easter food is a curious thing that arcs through many religions and traditions. The Anglo-Saxon love of hot cross buns, to symbolise Christ on the cross, the eating of fish only on Good Friday. The eating of lamb over the weekend, originally based on the Passover stories from Jewish folklore when the Jews were escaping slavery in Egypt and the taking of their firstborn sons, which quickly morphed into a Christian tradition and the symbolism of the lamb of God. And then there’s the rabbits and the chocolate. Some say Easter comes from Ēostre, or Ostara, the pagan goddess of fertility. And, according to legend, Ēostre had a companion animal, a hare. As for the chocolate, a cynic would say it’s simply a marketing byproduct from the industrial revolution when Cadbury engineered moulds that created a hollow chocolate egg.
From all of this, as I look towards the longest run of holiday days on our calendar, it’s my smoked cod and potato soup that I look forward to most.
Smoked cod and potato soup
– 2 onions
– 4 garlic cloves
– 50g butter
– 500g smoked cod
– 2 litres water
– 1kg nicola potatoes, peeled, cut into ½-centimetre dice and kept under cold water
– salt and pepper
– 2 tbsp chopped parsley
Dice the onions finely and crush the garlic.
Place a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and add a good splash of oil and the butter. When the butter has melted, add the onions and garlic and cook slowly over a low heat until they are soft and golden.
While the onions are cooking, skin the fish, remove any bones and cut into half- to one-centimetre dice.
Once the onions are golden brown, turn the heat to high, add the diced fish and seal it, stirring all the time so the onions don’t catch.
Add the water and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes to help develop the flavour.
Drain the potato dice and add to the soup. Bring the soup back to the boil and then return to a simmer until the potatoes are cooked (about 15-20 minutes). Adjust seasoning to taste and stir through the parsley just before you serve the soup.
This is a dish that I often find is even more delicious the next day, after it has sat in the fridge overnight.
2013 Domaine Serge Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé ($40) – Peter Watt, sommelier, du Fermier
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 24, 2018 as "For cod’s sake". Subscribe here.