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Stovetop Simmered Fish- Your Back Pocket Starter Fish Recipe

Clients often ask me about cooking fish in ways that will make it 'less fishy' or not smell up their home. I think these reasons, along with the fear of overcooking fish, keep people stuck in cycles of chicken breast and ground beef. As a condo dweller, I've never had much space to run from unpleasant kitchen scents so if you are hoping to cook dinner and not flavour your couch and laundry as well, I hear you and I see you.

My answer to these questions is two fold. One, low and slow will help reduce unpleasant aromas (though I'd argue the smell of cooking delicious fish is actually a good thing??). Two, cooking in a liquid (this is true for any protein, not just fish) will prevent it from drying out. Think beef stew or chicken curry- these meats are slowly braised in another flavourful liquid so they can soak up that flavour and avoid becoming dry. It's pretty fool proof actually, and it's one of my favourite ways to cook fish.

This method works fabulously with white flakey fish, which is great because these are often less expensive. It also does well with small fillets that on their own don't look like much, but when involved in a larger composed dish like this can become a dinner guest worthy meal.

Are you ready for another bonus? This is a great way to stretch your proteins. Food ain't cheap my friends, so cut corners where you can. Fish flaked apart and stretched through brothy vegetables, maybe some beans for added additional protein, will fool you but feed you well.

If you have some onions (or shallots, or leeks), some herbs, some softer vegetables (think zucchini, leafy greens, peppers, tomatoes, frozen brocc or cauli- basically things that won't turn this quick 20 minute dinner into an hour long affair) and fish, you have a great meal.

Flavourful liquid isn't even a must have here. Especially if you add a flavour booster like a curry paste, spice mix, or harissa paste, water will do the trick. As it all cooks, that liquid will become a flavourful broth anyways.

This is also a great place to use up random bits from your fridge. Antipasto style spreads like olive tapenade, pesto, oily hot peppers, harissa, curry pastes, throw them in (well, don't throw them in all at once but I hope you get the point)!

I'll share more versions of this in future but for today here is my most commonly used recipe and flavour combo. You'll notice most things are listed as optional, and that's because this is really quite flexible.


olive oil

1/2 medium onion, or 1 small onion, thinly sliced

1/2 fennel bulb OR 1 zucchini cut into thin half moons OR 1-2 bell peppers cut into thin strips

2 cloves of garlic, I like to smash them and then remove them later but you can slice them up if you like

a pinch of chili flakes, optional

a few sprigs of thyme, optional

1 tsp fennel seeds, optional

1/2 cup white wine, optional

2 pints cherry tomatoes OR use 1 15oz can whole peeled plum tomatoes (you can crush these with the back of a wooden spoon as it cooks)

2 cups frozen/canned peas, optional

a handful of olives

salt and pepper

1 lb cod

fresh herbs, optional

a few tbsp olives, optional

zest of 1 lemon, optional

toasted bread OR cooked grain to serve

(is anything actually required for this recipe?!)


Heat olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions, additional vegetables and a pinch of salt. Salting from the very first stage helps to build flavour but also helps to draw water out of the onions and soften them. Cook until they're soft, which could take anywhere from about 8 to 15 minutes. If the pan looks too dry and you worry they're burning, add a splash of water and lower the heat.

Add the garlic and chili flakes, along with the thyme, fennel seeds, if using any of these. Let the seeds and spices toast for a minute before adding the white wine. Cook out the white wine, which means allowing it to bubble until it reduces in volume again. Add your tomatoes, more salt and pepper. If you're using cherry tomatoes, you want them to burst. If you're using canned tomato, you want it to thicken up and get tasty.

Stir in your peas and olives and cook for a few minutes before making divots in the mixture for your fish.

Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides and nestle it into the divots in the mixture. Cover the pan with a lid and keep the heat to medium. You don't want to boil the fish. Check on it after 8-10 minutes. It should flake easily. Finish with lemon zest and fresh herbs then serve with toasted bread, pita, or cooked grains (like rice or quinoa).

Here are some more flavour combination ideas:

-leeks, fennel, tomato, toasted bread

-shallot, ginger, zucchini, thai green curry paste, coconut milk, cilantro, fresh lime juice to finish, rice

-onion, red bell pepper, harissa paste, pita bread

Are you ready to start cooking more fish with this simple template? Fish is nothing to fear, let me help you conquer it in the kitchen!


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