Bouchon’s Cod with a Stew of Sweet Peppers Recipe Pt 3: Complete

Cabillaud et Pipérade

If you followed along with parts 1 and 2, you would know that poaching the cod in oil is the last step to complete this dish. While it sounds like a fancy technique and I was admittedly intimidated by the instructions at first, it turned out to be a practical and delicious method to cook fish that I will utilize again.
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cod fillets
extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
freshly ground white pepper (substituted with black pepper)
thyme sprigs
a head of garlic cut horizontally
chicken stock
minced Italian parsley
Fleur de sel


Since I spent so much effort on making the Soffritto and Piperade, I decided to invite some friends over to try this dish. I bought four pieces of skinned cod fillet and cut them into individual portions. Keller explains that any neutral, lean, and delicate fish will work with this application.
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The big question now is how much olive oil to use. Keller suggests putting the fish in a pot and adding enough olive to cover them by 1/2 inch and then removing them and patting them dry. Since I can be clumsy and did not want to drip oil all over the kitchen or deal with an oily baking tray, I covered the fish with water instead, removed the fish and measured the amount of water left. I added the same amount of oil into the pot and patted the fish dry. I seasoned the fish with salt and pepper. Initially, I wondered whether the salt and pepper would dissipate in the oil but it turns out the flavor really penetrates the fish and it is a step that cannot be skipped.

While the fish soaked up the s&p goodness, I added the sprigs of thyme and the two halves of the head of garlic into the oil as the temperature reached 140°F. Then, the pot was removed from the heat and the aromatics were left to infuse the oil for half an hour. So far, easy enough.
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Then my tummy churned at the thought of poaching such delicate fish in the oil. What if I cannot keep the temperature constant? I knew oil heats up much quicker than water and so I would have less control over it. What if the fish doesn’t cook through? How can I be sure it’s done? But before I knew it, it was time for the fish to go for a swim.

Keller instructs to poach the fish at around 120°F for 12 to 14 minutes. I decided to place the thickest pieces on the bottom and the thinnest on top so I can “fish” (hehe) them out as they finish cooking. He says that the oil should just feel warm and I should be able to keep my finger in it for 10 seconds. This created a battle between my mind, my finger, and the oil. It’s been said that in aviation training, pilots are told to trust their gauge no matter what. Not their eyes, not their partners, but the gauge. In the same way, I knew I should trust my thermometer but the oil just felt too cool for me to imagine that fish can cook at such tepid temperature. In fact, at 120°F, I could keep my finger in the oil practically forever. See, there are no pictures of the fish actually poaching because I was too busy sticking my finger in the oil and counting. Nevertheless, I skeptically obeyed, set the timer and monitored the oil temperature.
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In the mean time, I simmered the prepared Piperade with all its juices and the chicken stock in a saucepan until the fish was ready.
I checked back at my fish and to my amazement, they did turn opaque as promised! I broke off a little piece and it was in deed cooked and was very tender and succulent. I would even describe it as buttery. I knew I had a winner!

I mixed the minced Italian parsley into the juicy and sweet pepper stew and divided it among four bowls. I gingerly retrieved each piece of cod from the oil bath and patted them dry with paper towels. I handled them with more gentleness than if I were bathing newborn babies.
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To plate, the fish was placed on top of the sweet peppers stew, Fleur de sel was sprinkled on top, and some olive oil was drizzled over.

I did make one booboo. Keller was very specific about which side of the fish should face upwards at plating. Since the skin side is slightly pinkish, it should face downwards so the diners can only see the gleaming white side. That did not occur to me because I was hurrying to get the plates out before the fish cooled too much. A detail to bear in mind.
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The Verdict:
The fish turned out extremely delicate and moist and the salt and pepper really infused the mild flesh. (Slap on the wrist for not having white pepper on hand.) Disappointingly, I did not taste much of the garlic or thyme, perhaps because their flavors were masked by the fragrance of the extra virgin olive oil. I would definitely poach fish in oil again but would omit the Fleur de sel next time. It wasn’t necessary and the crunch did not combine well with the dish’s tender texture.

A major concern I had was the amount of good olive oil I would “waste” on this application. All in all, I used just shy of three cups of oil and afterwards, I strained the oil through two coffee filters and stored it in the fridge for future fish poaching.

The mildness of the fish paired well with the spicy and sweet Piperade stew. If it weren’t for the chillies and the Soffritto, the dish might have been too mild. However, I probably won’t go through the 4+ hours process just to make this stew again unless I intend on making a huge batch of Soffritto. I would still roast the sweet peppers but would simply finish it off with some sauteed garlic, onion, hot pepper flakes, some Chipotle peppers, and the chicken stock.

Nevertheless, this was a great learning experience and my friends enjoyed a good meal. Since I was serving three hungry boys, this dish alone was not enough. To accompany the cod, I made a super simple rice side-dish that cooked itself while I concentrated on my tasks at hand. I will share the recipe with you in the next post.
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  1. April 12, 2009 by doggybloggy

    this cod dish looks great!

  2. April 12, 2009 by Heather

    Hi! Thanks for the comment! I’m looking forward to your recipe adventures – I was just in Napa last month and tried to dine at French Laundry but didn’t plan far enough in advance. One day I’ll make it :). good luck with the recipes – this one looks delicious!

  3. April 12, 2009 by Ivy

    Hi Mel and thanks for passing from my blog and leaving such a lovely message. Your cod sounds amazing and what a coincidence, I cooked cod today. Shall be looking forward to reading more of your posts.

  4. April 12, 2009 by sweetiepie

    wow!the fish looks delicious.I think my kids would love this dish.I just bought some cod fillet and i still dunno what to do with it.I definetely will try this recipe.:)yum yum!

  5. Thanks for the nice comments on my site… I’m glad you like it!

    This cod looks delicious. I always have trouble figuring out how to prepare fish. I think I will have to give this a try! Thanks for the great idea!

  6. April 12, 2009 by s. stockwell

    Hi Mei, Really fun to pop in on you like this. The photos are really good. The recipe idea looks better than you sound like it tastes? Cod is bland and a little salty anyway. Sounds like the garlic needs to be more intense and maybe the herbs need to be rethought?

    Sounds like your guests were happy and the dinner a success. Some times thats all that matters. we will watch for your posts. best, s

  7. April 12, 2009 by Blackswan

    Your photos are so well-taken & I love this recipe. Thks for dropping by my blog :)


  8. April 12, 2009 by Eric

    Cod is one of my favorite fish to work with. Thanks for giving me another way to cook it!


  9. April 13, 2009 by French Cooking for Dummies

    That Piperade is making me hungry ;-)
    Nice blog, I’ll be stopping by often… you’ve already been added to my blogroll!

  10. April 13, 2009 by Chou

    Mel, thanks for sharing such a detailed account of your experience poaching in oil. I like your approach to saving your oil for a future use, as I would have the same qualms.

  11. April 13, 2009 by Chris De La Rosa

    Looks absolutely amazing. I’ve enjoyed cod all my life, but sadly it’s ONLY been the dried/salted type that we eat (crave) so much in the Caribbean.

  12. April 13, 2009 by Brenda - Aesthetic Dalliances

    Hi there!

    Thanks for the sweet message on my blog. Very flattering. :)
    I’m about to have a baby so not sure when the next time I’ll post is, but when I do I hope to follow your blog as well.

    This cod dish looks absolutely delicious! Wish I’d been a guest at your house that night!

  13. April 13, 2009 by Tiffany

    Hi Mel, I love cod. This looks wonderful! (and thank you for visiting my site!)

  14. April 14, 2009 by Robert-Gilles Martineau

    Dear Mel!
    You are going French!
    Not many people do know that cabillaud is young fresh cod!
    As for the exposed side of the fish, there is only one rule: show the best one and don’t worry what the oundits will say!

  15. April 14, 2009 by Tangled Noodle

    Wonderful! I was really curious about oil poaching – it sounds fascinating and not as difficult as I’d imagined. I’m not sure I would try it myself as you may have a lot more patience than I to prepare this recipe but I thoroughly enjoyed following this process!

  16. April 18, 2009 by Chef E

    Oh, I came here, saw the oil, and thought this might be it! Yes, very nice…I do not approach cod enough…Only two really good markets in my area know for their outstanding seafood choices, and I must get to them (one the parking is horrible!).

  17. April 22, 2009 by Mel (admin)

    Thank you everyone for the awesome support and lovely comments. Sorry I can’t respond to each one at the moment but I really appreciate it, especially the tips and suggestions :)

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