Frozen fish becomes a warm Spanish meal: Merluza à la Gallega

by Marion on February 14, 2018

Can’t find fresh fish? Frozen will do. Here, chunky pieces of cod are quickly braised in a sauce of tomatoes, bell peppers, potatoes, saffron and paprika in the traditional Merluza à la Gallega. Recipe below.

Merluza a la Gallega

Years back, I lived in a port town in Nova Scotia, where great, fresh seafood was a fact of life. In the morning, the boats came in around 10 or 10:30, and I would put on my sneakers and walk down to the dock and buy a fish off the boats, and that night that fish would be dinner. This came to mind the other day when we were at Trader Joe’s.

go-to-the-recipeWhen we go to Trader Joe’s during the day, it is usually a quick surgical strike—in and out, done. But when we go late in the evening, it often devolves into a curious hunting and gathering expedition. This was one of those evenings. I was staring at the shelf of crackers when Terry came over with a package of frozen cod and said, “Look at this.”

We’ve had a lot of success with frozen tilapia—especially the fresh tasting, sustainable tilapia from Regal Springs. So we thought we would give the cod a try. According to Trader Joe’s, it is Alaska Cod, sustainably fished and wild caught, a big plus for us.

Looking at that package of cod, I remembered one of my favorite recipes from days of yore—this dish from Galicia, on the northwestern coast of Spain. It’s meant to be made with hake, which is pretty hard to find these days, certainly here in the Midwest. But it works with any mild, thick white-fleshed fish—cod or haddock, for instance.

This dish is weeknight easy and company good—rich, intense and satisfying. It actually takes less time to make than to order takeout and then go pick it up. You can also make the sauce the night before, adding the potatoes and fish when you finish the dish the next night. This not only makes the final dish prep quicker—it allows the sauce to deepen in flavor overnight.

It works nicely with good quality frozen fish, and it is out of this world with fresh fish. The original recipe calls for padron peppers, but feel free to use bell peppers, which is what we do because you can find them everywhere. Some traditional versions omit the tomatoes, but I love them in here. And some traditional versions also use chorizo, but in my view, it’s not necessary. The recipe is so much more pure without it.

Merluza à la Gallega
Serves 2 to 3

1 pinch of saffron
1 cup plus 1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons paprika
1 bell pepper, chopped—I used a combination of orange and yellow
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
2 cups of potatoes—peeled and cubed (about 3/4 inch cubes)
2/3 pound cod, hake or haddock (thawed if frozen), cut into equal-sized chunks

First, make the sauce. Put the pinch of saffron in a small bowl and steep in 1/4 cup red wine. In a heavy saucepan that has a tight fitting lid, heat the olive oil to medium, then sauté the onion for 1 minute or so, until it is starting to turn translucent. Add the paprika, stir thoroughly, turn down the heat a bit, and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the peppers and continue to sauté for another minute or so.

Pour in the tomatoes, the saffron and the rest of the wine. Stir everything together, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so it gently simmers. Cook uncovered for about 20 minutes, giving it a stir now and then. It should become pretty thick. (You can make the sauce the night before up to this point. If you do so, gently reheat it before adding the potatoes.) Add the potatoes, stir again and cook until they are just starting to get tender.

Add the fish fillets, cover the pan and simmer everything gently for about 8 minutes, turning the fish halfway through to cook evenly and coat with sauce. The potatoes should be fork-tender. If they are not, gently take out the fish and set aside until the potatoes are done, another minute or two, then return the fish to the pan to heat it through.

Serve in soup plates—if you like, with a simple green salad.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

John / Kitchen Riffs February 14, 2018 at 8:05 am

Nothing can beat fish that you cook and eat the same day it’s caught, but a lot of frozen fish is really good. And probably fresher than the “fresh” fish at the fish mongers. We’ve found the few varieties of frozen that we’ve tried from Trader Joe’s to be pretty good quality. Anyway, what a nice dish! Fish stews are fun to put together, and pretty easy to make. Nice forgiving way of cooking fish, too — even if you overcook it somewhat and it begins to flake, so what? Don’t notice it in a stew. Good stuff — thanks.

Dani H February 15, 2018 at 12:09 am

This sounds so good, Marion! I usually get the flash frozen individually sealed fish as it may not be as good as fresh but can come close. Thanks for the recipe.

Eeka February 15, 2018 at 8:08 am

This makes me want to jump right up & buy some fish, and start cooking!

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