A friend of mine periodically gives me her magazines when she’s done with them. One title I had never heard of is Saveur, a food magazine that is akin to Food & Wine. It’s mostly recipes that are out of my comfort zone, though I have made a couple of loaves of bread and an easy layered dessert from several of their issues. This recipe from the January 2015 issue caught my eye because Husband and I honeymooned in Ireland, and we loved the food there. We also have heard the admonition that one should never prepare fish with cheese, so the accompanying article was pretty funny to me. Disclaimer: this is in no way a healthy dish! It has butter and a load of heavy cream. Every so often a recipe finds me that is worth the decadence. This is one of those recipes.
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 medium white onion, sliced 1⁄4″ thick
1 1⁄2 lb. finnan haddie (cold-smoked haddock), skin removed
3 cups heavy cream
2 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 oz. aged cheddar, shredded
1⁄4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Roughly chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)
Melt butter in a 12″ skillet over medium. Cook onion until golden, about 18 minutes. Transfer onion to a bowl; set aside. Wipe skillet clean. Add haddock and cream; simmer 10 minutes. Transfer haddock to a plate; set aside. Simmer cream until reduced by two-thirds, about 15 minutes. Transfer half the cream to a bowl; set aside. Stir reserved onions into cream in skillet; set aside.
Bring potatoes to a boil in a 4-qt. saucepan of salted water; reduce heat to medium and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and return to pan. Add reserved cream, the cheddar, nutmeg, salt, and pepper; coarsely mash.
Heat oven to broil. Spread potato mixture in a 9″ x 13″ baking dish or individual ramekins. Add haddock and spoon onion mixture over the top; broil until browned, 2–3 minutes. Garnish with parsley, if you like.
I didn’t want to try to find smoked haddock, so I prepared some cod with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. I also cut this recipe in half because the 2 of us don’t need a 4 pound casserole on top of all the other cooking I’m doing.
Cod is such a beautiful, buttery fish. It cooks in no time and has a mild flavor, so it’s a great vehicle for whatever seasonings you add to it. I pan seared 2 fillets (about 12 oz) for 6 or 7 minutes, then set it off to the side while I cooked the onions. I used a little more butter (maybe 1.5 times the amount) than the recipes calls for, because, why wouldn’t you?
I sliced the potatoes so they would cook faster; they were ready before I was finished simmering the cream reduction so I let them sit in the pot (I’m a firm believer in multi-tasking but it doesn’t always coordinate). The cream hadn’t reduced a lick after 15 minutes, so I put the heat up to medium and watched it carefully for scorching. It took a good 20 more minutes to get this cream reduced to just under a cup. The rest of the recipe came together quickly.
Because everything had cooled off a bit while waiting for the lazy cream, I put the casserole into a 275º oven while waiting for Husband to get home from work. I’ve told you before that my broiler is a jerk, so I literally sat on the floor in front of the oven while I broiled this dish for exactly 3 minutes before we were ready to eat. I was not about to risk burning it after all that work.
Verdict: Heavenly. The caramelized onions brought such tangy flavor, which contrasted beautifully with the creaminess of the potatoes. I could have gone a little heavier on the paprika– the smokiness wasn’t really apparent. The fish was delicate but crisp on the edges thanks to the broiler, and the cheese just sort of blended in. There wasn’t an obvious cheesy flavor, but the texture of the potatoes was definitely thickened because of it. I might try preparing some fish in our smoker to see how a more pronounced smoke flavor would come across in this casserole. While the recipe was a bit labor intensive, the end result was worth it. This one is a keeper!