RECIPE: Lemon & Paprika Crusted Cod with Rosemary & Garlic Roasties

The potato is an interesting vegetable, isn’t it? Actually, perhaps that’s the wrong way to start. After all, I don’t think there are many of you who would apply the adjective ‘interesting’ to the humble tuber. Filling, perhaps. Bolstering. Comforting. Blandly starchy. But probably not interesting.

What I meant by ‘interesting’ is that it’s curious how little we showcase the potato in its own right, unlike a lot of other vegetables. It’s rarely the centrepiece of a recipe. Potatoes are generally just there as a blank canvas against which other ingredients are allowed to come to the fore. Think of a lovely pillow of fluffy mashed potato, the perfect vehicle for transferring a dark, unctuous, rich, meaty gravy into your mouth. Or crispy roast potatoes, ideal again for soaking up that gravy. Chips, a blandly salty and crispy accompaniment to a piece of fried fish or a juicy burger. Potatoes so often sit there on the side, fulfilling the role of bolstering carbohydrate, but not really receiving much attention.

Sometimes, however, a recipe comes along that makes you reconsider the potato. Cooked in certain ways, you remember that the potato actually has a flavour in its own right. Different varieties have different measures of earthiness and creaminess, different textures to bring to a recipe. They’re subtle, yes, but they can also stand up to lots of strong flavours that seem only to enhance their own, rather than overpower it.

Many of these recipes involve roasting. Yes, mashed potato is a delicious thing, especially when made with lots of butter and wholegrain mustard. But I think the potato really comes into its own with the application of ferocious heat, crisping up all its edges in contrast with its creamy interior. This is particularly true if you’ve seasoned the potato generously with salt and something a little bit tangy or spicy: lemon, perhaps, or smoked paprika, or garlic, or chilli.

One of my favourite ways to do this is to thinly slice waxy baby potatoes about 5mm thick, then toss them with salt, a generous amount of olive oil, and some garlic and rosemary. The end result is addictive: part of the potato slices has crisped and caramelised, while the other part is soft and gooey, and everything is salty and garlicky and perfumed with rosemary. It’s a fabulous combination.

The other night, I decided to throw some baby tomatoes in too, to collapse and char a little and turn everything tangy and juicy and delicious. This formed a bed for thick fillets of cod, made interesting with a crunchy, deeply flavoured crust of breadcrumbs, smoked paprika, lemon salt (a JustIngredients find), strong cheddar and olive oil. It’s salty and tangy from the cheddar and lemon, and given that moreish smokiness from paprika.

This is a delicious way both to celebrate the humble potato and to make what is otherwise a fairly boring white fish interesting. It’s absolutely crammed full of flavour, making it a healthy but deeply satisfying dinner. It’s quick and easy to prepare, and delivers on taste and texture in droves.

Lemon and paprika crusted cod with rosemary and garlic roast potatoes (serves 2):

12 baby potatoes
200g baby plum tomatoes
A sprig of fresh rosemary, leaves finely chopped
1 tsp garlic and rosemary salt
3 tbsp olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cod fillets, skin on
6 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
4 heaped tbsp grated strong cheddar or parmesan
½ tsp lemon salt
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp dried thyme
Squeeze of lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil

Pre-heat the oven to 200C. Thinly slice the potatoes (about as thick as a pound coin) and put in an ovenproof dish with the tomatoes. Scatter over the rosemary, garlic and rosemary salt, olive oil and black pepper, then toss together well. Roast for 30 minutes, or until just tender.

Meanwhile, make the cod crust. In a small bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, cheese, lemon salt, paprika, thyme, lemon juice and olive oil. Spread thickly over the skin side of the cod fillets. When the potatoes are done, put the cod fillets on top of them, lower the oven heat to 180C and cook for a further 20 minutes. Serve with baby spinach.

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