I finally bit the bullet and ordered a copy of Penelope Casas’ cookbook, One Pot Spanish, which you can’t find in bookstores and depending on the day, a copy of it online can sell for upwards of $120. I am a huge fan of the cookbook’s author, Penelope Casas. I liken her to a Spanish Julia Child. In the same way that Julia brought the art of French cooking to American home cooks and general audiences, Casas did the same for Spanish cuisine. And we’re talking way before the tapas craze even hit the States. Growing up, her cookbooks were the only ones I’d see in bookstores. All that to say that since $120 is not in the budget for a cookbook, I settled on ordering a lightly used version.
I hear the thump of a package being dropped off and run to my front door. As I do with all eagerly anticipated cookbooks, I tear open the package to delve right into the recipes that I have longed to try in my own kitchen.
I was stopped on the first page. There was a post-it note. It read:
To my dearest Alejandra.
With the hope that you learn to make a few of these little plates and take the opportunity that we have to go deeper into our roots.
With all my love.
From your grandmother,
In that instant, I felt locked in a moment that wasn’t my own, reading words that weren’t meant for my eyes. I was filled with questions, excited by what I had found, and saddened. Why would someone leave such a personal note in a cookbook they were selling? Why would they sell the book at all?
I flipped through the recipes, happy to see a Spanish pork stew dish I’d never seen before but I took the cookbook back to my couch and unable to focus on anything else, I went back to the note. Lola’s words resonated with me. The desire to make and share food as a way to understand who we are and where we come from is something I deeply identify with. Lola’s handwriting had also made my heart skip a beat, as it seemed like an exact replica of my own beloved grandmothers. It was a handwriting-style that I assumed must of been the one taught years ago in Spain. Of course, being as sentimental as I am and deeply missing my own grandmother, I took it as a sign. Something about what I had found felt urgent. The need to go to my kitchen and cook was strong and being that baby simpatica was napping, I did just that. Lola may not be my grandmother but her message was delivered to me, the inadvertent recipient, and I needed to honor it in some way. The way came in the form of a dog-eared recipe for Atun Frito Con Miel or Tuna Fried with Honey. Like I said, the page was dog-eared; clearly a sign. At this point, my sentimentality was like a runaway freight train. I was on board and there was no turning back. Everything was a sign at this point.
I used the recipe straight from Casas’ book. Nothing’s changed from the original recipe with the exception that since I didn’t have any tuna in the refrigerator, I used cod. I can honestly say it’s one of the best ways I’ve ever had fish. Really, it’s that good and so incredibly simple. The honey is such a compliment to the fish but the cumin (something I usually reserve for beef dishes), is the perfect spice for the fish. There’s very few ingredients and the freshness of the fish remains front and center. Just how I like my fish – underwhelmed. Unlike myself.
This dish has an exotic moorish side with its use of cumin and honey. The Moorish occupation of Spain lasted from 711AD–1492AD and left its greatest mark in the south of Spain. A place called Andalucia which was originally called Al-Andalus in Arabic. Here and in other parts of Spain, you will find dishes that are rich with the Arab culinary influence. Cumin (the herb) grows abundantly in the mountains of Spain. Because of its abundance, Spaniards sometimes charmingly use the word to convey something that has low value. I assure you that’s not the case in this dish. Honey, it’s counterpart in the recipe, has been used in Spain since Neolithic times, as a way to preserve fruit. It’s still a very popular sweetener and used in traditional cakes and holiday desserts like turron.
It’s Honey-Coated Fried Cod (Bacalao Frito con Miel) but for today’s post, I’ll take the liberty of renaming it, Lola’s Fried Cod with Honey.
Recipe adapted from Penelope Casas’ One Pot Spanish
- 2 Cod Steaks
- 2 Eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
- Pinch of crumbled saffron threads
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Liquid honey
- All-purpose flour
- Salt to taste
- Sprinkle cod on both sides with salt and then set the fish aside
- In a separate dish, beat together the eggs, cumin, parsley and saffron
- Pour enough oil into a large skillet so that it covers the bottom of the pan (about 1/8th of an inch)
- Heat the skillet over medium-high heat
- Spread each side of the cod steaks with honey
- Dust cod steaks with flour, then coat on both sides with egg mixture
- Arrange steaks side-by-side on skillet and cook over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes (about 4 to 5 minutes on each side depending on thickness of steaks)
- Serve immediately
This makes a wonderful lunch or light dinner if served with a fresh green salad. You can also cut the cooked steaks into one-inch cubes to make an amazing tapa!