Norwegian Springtime Cod ('Plukkfisk')

A good ol' Norwegian home supper, from me to you!

The marvellous thing about this recipe is that, as ingredient-consuming as it may sound, absolutely no part of the preparation is wasted or thrown away. The herbal milk bath in which you cook the fish and leeks is thickened into a creamy, flavoursome mustard gravy to drizzle at the table along with rye crispbreads. Even though Norwegians, young ones especially, consider Plukkfisk to be olden and gauche, there's somewhat of an elegant appeal to outsiders like me, or perhaps even, you too.

Let me say this: I actually find fish immensely gross. I won't eat it unless I really have to. But I should tell you that this is a world away from a usual fish dish. This recipe uses cod - what I consider fish for beginner - which is poached in milk and herbs to mute what little vulgar fishiness there is. If you're a hardened fish-lover, you can use whatever fish you like: haddock or even some salmon for a more sprightly baby pink version!

I first tried this dish, 'Plukkfisk', in a far-too-dimly-lit pub-style restaurant in Bergen, called 'Pingvingen'. I begrudged ordering a fish dish but I really wanted to try something authentically Norwegian, and this was it: creamy & lemony mashed potato, soft nuggets of cod and leek throughout, and topped off with crisped, smoked bacon and a mild mustard gravy. What I ate turned out to be so delicious, I went back the next day and ordered it again!

This dish is what I consider a good bridge between Winter and Spring. With the freshness of leeks and lemons, there's something quite awakening about it, which makes it ideal for when you're coming out of hibernation mode, when everything is getting greener yet it's still a bit too chilly to face a full-on salad.

So this recipe makes a perfect dinner for two. I reckon it's a pretty romantic fish dish - elegant, satisfying yet it won't leave you with trout-mouth if you decide to go in for a kiss afterwards!

What You'll Need:
+ 4 fillets of cod (fresh or frozen, I'll show you how to cook both) +
+ 4 rashers of Smoked Back Bacon (any bacon you like really!) +
+ 1kg of Potatoes, peeled +
+ 3 Leeks +
+ 450ml of Full-Fat Milk +
+ 1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt +
+ 1 teaspoon Black Pepper +
+ 2 Bay Leaves +
+ 1 clove of Garlic +
+ Juice of 1 Lemon +
+ 25g of Butter (just a tablespoon-sized lump) +
+ 1 teaspoon of Dijon Mustard +
+ 1 tablespoon of Plain Flour +

1. Set your oven to preheat to 180C/350F. While it heats, peel your potatoes, chop into quarters, set them aside and put a large, pan of water onto boil. At least that's the tedious part out of the way!

2. Now, take a heatproof dish and slot in your cod. Make sure you have a bit of extra room in the dish, as the leeks will be joining in on the fun later!

Pour over 400ml of milk (keeping 50ml of the 450ml back), and scatter over your 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon of black pepper, 2 bay leaves, and your garlic. No need to chop the garlic. Just simply burst it under your fist and throw it in at the deep end.

[ [ If you are using fresh cod, skip the next step and go straight to STEP 4 ] ]

3. Pop your milk bath of cod into the oven to roast. If you are using frozen cod, roast your cod bath for 15 minutes. While the cod thaws, let's chop the leeks!

4. Chop your leeks into little coins and add to the cod bath, making sure everything is embalmed in hot, herbal milk.

Add the entire thing into the oven to cook. It'll take 15 minutes. Also, plop your potatoes into the pan of boiling water now and boil for 25 minutes.

5. After 15 minutes, remove your cod bath from the oven and pop it in a corner to stew while we wait for the potatoes to finish - should be any minute now.

The potatoes will be perfectly done when you can sink a fork through any chunk with zero effort. When they're at this stage, drain them in a colander and then pop them back into their empty pan

6. Now to mash!

Slip in 25g of butter, or to taste, just a tablespoon-sized scoop of it. As it melts down, pour in the 50ml of milk left behind from earlier. Attack it with a masher until it's dreamy and creamy, or to your preference really. Some folks like lumps - that's totally ok. You're welcome here.

7. Now it gets interesting.

Lift your cod and leeks out of the milk and plonk them into the pan with the mashed potatoes. Just make sure you pick out the bay leaves and the clove of garlic - their job is done.

Gently mash the cod and leeks into the potatoes - enough so everything is mashed throughout, but not too much that the cod is dissolved into another dimension. Find a nice, happy and chunky medium there, and then stir through a squeeze of fresh lemon.

As you can see above, you will be left with a dish of flavoursome milk, which we will NOT be throwing away...

8. So we're going to turn this leftover milk into a very fast and tasty mustard gravy!

Sieve the milk into a frying pan, just to remove any leftover bits of leek. Add in a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a tablespoon of flour. The trick to not getting lumps is to add the flour to a small cup or bowl first, and mix with about a tablespoon of the milk until you have a paste, then just add this paste into the rest of the milk.

Also, don't worry if you have any pools of oil floating around - mustard is one of the best naturally-occurring emulsifiers you can find, so it'll help everything combine.

Heat the milky gravy until boiling, and then turn the heat off. As it cools, it should start to thicken into a creamy sauce.

In the meantime, or better while you're making the gravy, fry up some scissored-up bacon until well-cooked and crispy

9. Everything is done and mashed! Simply serve up in a heap, strewn with crispy bacon, drizzled with peppery gravy and fanned with rye crispbreads.

Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Anthony :)



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