This quick and easy cod dish riffs on Besuguito Guernica, a traditional Basque dish, where besugo, or sea bream, is broiled then topped with a warm garlicky sauce of olive oil, sherry vinegar and red pepper flakes. Instead of sea bream, I use cod and substitute apple cider vinegar for the sherry vinegar. The end result is just as delicious.
The combination of cod (rich in omega 3s—there’s a reason your grandparents took cod liver oil!), olive oil (a monounsaturated fat replete with polyphenols) and fresh garlic (containing health-promoting sulfuric compounds) delivers a trifecta of heart health benefits.
Cold water fish—like cod—is a good source of blood-thinning omega 3 fatty acids, especially beneficial if you have atherosclerosis or diabetic heart disease. Studies show that people who regularly eat fish have a much lower risk of heart disease and heart attack—than those who don’t eat fish.
Cod is also an excellent source of vitamin B12 and a good source of vitamin B6—both of these B’s help keep homocysteine levels low. Homocysteine can directly damage blood vessel walls, and high homocysteine levels are linked with greatly increased risk of heart attack and stroke.
A vitamin B12 deficiency negatively impacts bone health for both men and women. Recent research linked low vitamin B12 levels with a higher risk of bone fractures (particularly fractures in the lumbar spine) in older men. And, osteoporosis occurs more frequently among women who are deficient in vitamin B12.
Even if you think you don’t enjoy fish, cod is a great “starter fish”. It has a mild flavor and tender, flaky texture. How fresh fish is also affects flavor: avoid buying fish that’s packaged in Styrofoam and wrapped in plastic—you won’t be able to tell how fresh (or not) it is. Choose a place that sells fresh fish, a fish market or any place (Whole Foods comes to mind) that displays whole fish or fillets on ice. The best defense is a good offense: when I buy fish, I always smell it first: there should not a “fishy” or “off” smell. Don’t buy it if you detect a strong odor. Better to find out at the store rather than to discover this once you’re home!
Whatever the season, this cod dish is one of my favorite go-to comfort foods. I like to serve it with braised greens, like Swiss chard or kale, or paired with a salad of wild arugula or baby romaine, and a small side of butternut squash or pumpkin.
Poached Cod, Guernica-Style
1.5 pounds of wild-caught cod fillets,
ideally Alaskan cod (a.k.a. Pacific cod)
For the sauce
1/3 cup quality extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Generous handful of flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
For the fish: Fill a wide, heavy-bottomed stainless steel skillet (with a 2 or 3-inch rim) about 3/4 of the way with filtered water. Cover skillet and bring water to a gentle boil. Add cod to the skillet and reduce heat to low. Cover the skillet and let cod simmer about 3-4 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the fish slides out easily. Do not overcook the fish. Using a slotted metal spatula, transfer the fish to a serving dish. Season with sea salt. Cover to keep warm.
For the sauce: Immediately after you have finished cooking the fish, heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Keep a mindful eye on the olive oil; you do not want it to smoke because this means it has turned into a trans fat. Add the sliced garlic and cook gently for 5 to 6 minutes, or until garlic is golden (not brown!).
Add the red pepper flakes and let cook for approximately 1 minute. Be careful when you add the vinegar to the olive oil and red pepper flakes—the contents in the saucepan will flare up. Turn off heat. Let the mixture roil for about 30 seconds. Pour olive oil sauce over the fish.
Garnish with chopped parsley.