"Being pretty on the inside means you don't hit your brother and you eat all your peas - that's what my grandma taught me."
Lord Chesterfield (1694 – 1773)
This dish is one of three that I posted on Instagram during "Great British Pea Week", which in 2021 fell in the week of 5-11 July. That said, it had caught my eye weeks before peas were in season and I was even aware that "Great British Pea Week" existed. But it was clear I needed to save it for the occasion.
The recipe comes from BBC Good Food, and was written as a microwave meal for one. But at its heart it was just fish cooked with a summery “stew” based on a classic one that I’m particularly partial to: “petit pois à la française” - especially served with gamey meat such as pan-fried pigeon breasts when I throw into the mix some salty (maybe smoky) pork lardons. So I’ve adapted my "petit pois à la française" recipe to create a braising base for fish and swapped in samphire for the salty contribution if not least to add a further seasonal sensation. The BBC Good Food recipe uses crème fraiche to enrich the sauce whereas I would normally take the more traditional approach of stirring in some "beurre manié" toward the end. I rather like the simplicity, lightness and freshness of the crème fraiche so have stuck with that for this recipe.
Often this time of year Dorset Fish bring hand-harvested samphire to the farmers’ market, however on this occasion it came from what was delivered in my veg box. I’ve used some cod here that I had stowed away in my freezer, but would happily recommend any white fish, especially line-caught pollack which is often available in the summer.
8 minutes in a sauté pan is all it takes to cook this dish, plus 2 minutes to finish the sauce... just enough time to decide whether this should this be eaten with a knife and fork? Or a spoon and fork? I know which I'd opt for.
For a dish cooked this way I'd suggest a fillet cut from the tail end of the fish would be the optimal choice. It's thinner and therefore inclined to cook more quickly and evenly in a braise. I might argue that it should also be cheaper as the fillet from the head end contains the "loin", the thicker cut so prized by restaurateurs for its succulence and its aptitude to a variety of cooking methods. That said it also contains the flabby belly section which is less useful so perhaps it's fair that both ends are priced equally.
Samphire is much more widely available than it was even, say, five years ago. If not available or if perhaps making this dish earlier in the year, some slim asparagus stalks would make a superb alternative to the samphire, but they may require a quick blanch before being treated as the samphire substitute.
Cod Fillet Braised with Peas, Lettuce and Samphire
Ingredients (Serves 2)
2 x 125-150g cod (or alternative white fish, see recipe intro) fillet, skin on
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, finely chopped garlic
4 spring onions, white part only, cut into 1" lengths
2 tbsp white wine
3 mint sprigs
100g shelled fresh peas (or use an equivalent weight of frozen peas)
125ml vegetable stock (a good quality cube is fine)
50g samphire (or slim asparagus stalks, see recipe intro)
100g shredded little gem lettuce (approximately one lettuce)
2 tbsp crème fraiche
2 tsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large sauté pan (one with a lid) heat the olive oil with the garlic and spring onions and sweat for a minute or so. Pour in the wine, increase the heat and reduce the wine until it has all but evaporated. Now add the mint sprigs, peas and stock and bring to the boil.
Nestle the fish fillets into the "stew", skin side down, cover the pan, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 4 mins. After that time add the samphire (or blanched asparagus) to the mix and continue to cook for a further 4 mins until the fish is just cooked.
Carefully lift the fish fillets from the pan and transfer to a (warm) plate and cover only loosely with foil to keep warm. Remove the mint sprigs from the pan and discard.
Stir in the lettuce and increase the heat to high so that the liquid reduces by a third to a half. Lower the heat to medium, add the parsley and the crème fraiche and simmer for a further minute or two so that the crème fraiche is well incorporated. Check and adjust the seasoning.
Spoon the pea, lettuce and samphire "stew" into two wide soup bowls, place a fish fillet over each and serve.