Cod in mustard sauce with pickled beets

When it comes to special events, what menu items come to mind? Dry-aged steak grilled to perfection? Truffles? Foie grasor another rich and fancy hors d’oeuvres? I’m guessing that cod, beets, bacon, and eggs don’t make the list. Don’t be deceived, however; this meal I’m about to share with you is something remarkable.

The other day I was looking for something to serve for dinner. We were having my father-in-law over while my mother-in-law was out of town. Cod was going to be the centerpiece of the meal, but I needed to come up with the rest of the menu. Flipping through a Scandinavian cookbook, I found a recipe for “Cod with mustard sauce and condiments.” On the page next to it was a beautiful spread of five distinct food items arranged artfully on a plain white plate: cod with a pale mustard-dotted sauce, fingerling potatoes, half of a medium-boiled egg, pickled beets, and crispy diced bacon. I decided to give it a try, swapping out the original pickled beets, which required a week of marinating, with a quick version that could be made the same evening, and adding some sautéed beet greens.

The recipes are simplicity at its best, with each item prepared simply and allowed to shine. The dinner is a composition of Scandinavian flavors that lend themselves perfectly to the hospitality that corner of the world has so perfected.

Everyone loved the meal, especially my Scandinavian-born father-in-law. I’ll be keeping this recipe around for the future.

Cod with Mustard Sauce and Condiments
Adapted from The Scandinavian Cookbook by Trina Hahnemann

This recipe, as detailed below, will serve four people, with leftover beets, potatoes, and mustard sauce. Feel free to increase the quantity of fish as needed to serve more people.

24 oz cod fillets
Salt and pepper
1 bag fingerling potatoes, boiled in salted water until tender, and kept warm until ready to serve
4 medium-boiled eggs, peeled and cut in half (these can be prepared in advance and served cold or room temperature)
4 slices thick-cut bacon, preferably uncured, diced and pan-fried until crispy
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup whole grain mustard
Quick pickled beets (recipe follows)
Sautéed beet greens (recipe follows)

Prepare all condiments except mustard sauce in advance.

Season the cod with salt and pepper and poach in a large pan with water until just cooked through. Reserve 1 3/4 cups of the water, then cover the cod to keep warm until ready to serve.

To make the mustard sauce, melt butter over low heat in a small pan. Add the flour and stir constantly until it’s incorporated and forms a smooth paste. Gradually add the reserved cooking liquid from the cod, stirring constantly and making sure that no lumps form. When you have a smooth liquid, add the cream and mustard and continue to stir until the sauce starts to reach a boil. Remove from heat and taste to see if it needs any salt or pepper–this will depend on how seasoned the reserved water from the cod was.

To serve, arrange all the condiments on a plate around the cod as shown in the photo above, and spoon the sauce over the cod.

Quick Pickled Beets
6 medium-large beets, greens reserved for the following recipe
2 cups red wine vinegar
2 medium red onions, cut into halves and sliced
2 tablespoons sugar
3 star anise
10 peppercorns

Trim the beets by cutting off the stems, but make sure to leave the thin stem and the very end of the stalks–these will help seal in the nutrients when cooking. Cook the beats in a pressure cooker, according to the cooker’s instructions. (Mine says to place beets on the trivet with a half cup of water in the pressure cooker and bring to a boil, then add lid and cook at the second red line for 13 to 16 minutes. Cool using the quick release or cold water method.) When the beets are cooked, set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, prepare the brine. Put the red wine vinegar, onions, sugar, star anise, and peppercorns in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the onions have softened slightly, about 6-7 minutes.

When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and the very end of the stalks. The skins will come off very easily–just hold the beet in one hand and lightly pull the skin off with the other hand. Cut each beet in half lengthwise and then into 1/4-inch slices.

Place beets in a bowl, and pour the onions and brine over them and stir. Allow to marinate for at least a half an hour. These should keep for about a week.

Sautéed Beet Greens
Beet greens (use the greens from the pickled beets)
Olive oil
1 clove garlic

Heat olive oil in a pan and add garlic, sautéing briefly, then add beet greens and cook until tender.

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