Roast Cod Fillet with Fennel, Buckwheat and Tarragon and Anchovy Dressing

In some exciting news, I have recently made the leap and bought myself a proper set of chopping boards. The colour coded sort that professional caterers and chefs use, to comply with health and safety in the kitchen and to prevent cross-contamination. You know, red is for raw meat, blue is for fish, brown is for...well, I haven’t figured out what brown is for yet. But I am hoping it’s for chopping up huge slabs of chocolate. Or something like that.

It’s interesting though, how this approach doesn’t really get pressed upon the home cook and it probably should. But let’s be honest here, a lot of people will wander through life, with just one gnarled and beaten wooden chopping board under their arm and not encounter any problems at all. My Nan is one of those people. I am in the process of helping her move out at the moment and am currently having to wade through a lifetime of ‘toot’ before she downsizes.

‘How long have you had this chopping board, Nan?’ I recently asked her.

‘Oooh, about 40 years?’ she replied.

That’s a whole lot of chopping that’s gone on there. Combining lots of different, possibly quite dangerous flavours; all of which have been steeped into her board, over years and years of use. She’s a thorough washer upper, don’t get me wrong. But when I visit, I do often wonder why her jam sandwiches taste faintly of garlic. And bacon. And fish paste.

Thinking about unusual flavour combinations, and to segue neatly into this recipe, I am always amazed how versatile cod is in this regard. A handsome piece of fillet, chunky and thick, can stand up to a lot and in some respects, a simple destination of batter and deep-frying can seem like a crying shame. Saying that, I don’t think I could ever totally forgo fish and chips. Especially by the seaside.
But yes, cod, meaty and strong, turns out rather delicious when paired with say, spice or garlic. Even vanilla works surprisingly well.

Heading back to more robust waters though, I particularly like to match up cod with aniseed, in the form of fennel and to provide an earthy base, I like to throw some buckwheat into the mix. This seed, which is related to sorrel and rhubarb and not wheat, has a strong savoury taste, not too dissimilar to beef. As such, buckwheat does deliver quite the whack of umami to the tastebuds. However, cod soaks this up nicely and if cooked to delicate perfection, those lovely, white flakes can provide just the right sort of counterbalance. And if you crisp the skin up, then all the better.

Even with the final dressing, again you might think that the cod would be blasted into oblivion. It is fairly punchy after all. Yet, the cod happily gathers it all up and still manages to sing, aloft a raft of flavours. Brought together by three chopping boards no less. And not just the one as you might imagine.

An edited version of this post first appeared on Great British Chefs, in collaboration with Norge Seafood.


4 unskinned Norge cod fillets (weighing approx 200g each)
2 large fennel bulbs
100ml vermouth
250g buckwheat
500ml vegetable stock
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lemon, zested and juiced
100ml rapeseed oil (plus an extra splash for frying and drizzling) er does this need more explanation?
6 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
Small bunch of tarragon, leaves picked and finely chopped
2 tomatoes, seeded and finely diced
Salt and black pepper, to season


First heat your oven to 200C.

Next, take the fennel bulbs and give them a rinse under some cold water. Trim off the fronds and stems and put them to one side for a moment. And then trim the base and slice the bulbs into thin wedges, roughly eight per bulb.

Return to the stems, chopping everything up into a fine dice and roughly chop the fronds. Now take a saucepan and place onto the hob, over a medium heat and add a good glug of oil. Add the diced fennel stems and the garlic and stir until they’re soft and slightly translucent.

Add the buckwheat and stir through for a minute or so and then add the stock. Bring the boil and then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Cover the saucepan with a lid and leave to cook for 15 minutes.
Whilst the buckwheat is going, take a large wide saucepan and place on a high heat, again adding a healthy splash of oil. Pop the fennel wedges in and quickly fry for about two minutes on each side, so that they catch a touch and begin to caramelise. Then pour over the vermouth.

Turn the heat right down and cover and leave for 10 to 15 minutes. Until they become soft and golden.

Now is the time to put your cod fillets into the oven, so take them out of the fridge and place onto a baking tray, skin side up. Drizzle lightly with some oil and season with salt and pepper. Place into the oven, to roast for 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fillets. The aim is to slightly undercook, so that the fillets just begin to flake but still hold together.

Once you’ve got everything cooking away, you can now quickly make the dressing by mixing together the oil, lemon juice, chopped anchovy and tarragon and the tomato.

As everything comes towards to the end, add the remaining lemon zest and the chopped fennel fronds to the buckwheat and check for seasoning.

To serve, spoon a generous amount of buckwheat into the centre of the plate and arrange the fennel around the side and crown it all by placing a cod fillet on top. Finish by drizzling a generous amount of the dressing all over.


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