Creating a dish from memory is one thing, but it was a whole different game in the fifth episode of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars when competitors were asked to blindly taste the four favourite dishes of famed chef Daniel Boulud and then attempt to recreate them. Added to the pressure? They would be cooking for the master chef himself.
While others tried to parse out the ingredients in a Mussel and Cauliflower Veloutè, Poulet Chausseur and Steak Tartare, Andrea and Nicole were presented with Cod Basquaise, a fish dish flavoured with ingredients that region is known for, including tomatoes, Espelette peppers and chorizo.
Andrea was praised for her version which had all the key components, while Nicole neglected to add peppers – to Boulud’s surprise. (Ultimately, Boulud and head judge Mark McEwan, awarded Andrea the Quickfire Challenge win – and earned the coveted advantage going into the elimination round.)
Andrea’s interpretation of Boulud’s Cod Basquaise
The Basque Country region overlaps the border between France and Spain, at the western edge of the Pyranees mountain range and along the Atlantic coast. Unsurprisingly, seafood is a chief ingredient in the Basque people’s celebrated cuisine, which shares some commonalities with Spain, including the use of olive oil and tomatoes. Peppers are also frequently seen in dishes. But, while we in North America will likely reach for red peppers, those in Basque use the Espelette, a variety grown in the Basque area.
This trio – tomatoes, peppers and olive oil – are key ingredients in Boulud’s celebrated Cod Basquaise, which takes the fish and cooks it with the vegetables, oil and onions, along with some garlic, naturellement.
While chicken is often on the ingredient list for Basque-style recipes, Boulud uses it and cod in seemingly equal measure. In his Café Boulud Cookbook it’s all about the fish (along with chorizo and clams), while on his website, he has posted his recipe for Poulet Basquaise with Artichokes, Peppers and Chorizo.
Fish is such a treat to make a meal from because it cooks quickly and, when done right, is flaky and light. Boulud’s Cod Basquaise takes about half the time to prepare and cook compared to the chicken version – even quicker if you consider the famed chef recommends seasoning the chicken the night before cooking the recipe.
Daniel’s Cod Basquaise from Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 5
A fish like cod, known for its mild flavour and versatility, does well when paired with most flavours, including the bold ones associated with Basque cooking. However, fish can seem intimidating to many of us because for lack of experience cooking it, fear of committing the cardinal sin of overcooking.
Cooking fish at a lower temperature – whether roasting or pan-frying – makes it easier to catch it when it’s cooked to perfection and before it’s gone too far. For Boulud’s recipe, the temperature of the pan is turned down to low once the cod has been added to the pan, for example.
While Andrea fairly accurately recreated Boulud’s memory only from taste, those of us wanting to attempt Cod Basquaise at home have a little help – Daniel Boulud shared his recipe with us! This recipe has been modified slightly for the home cook.
Daniel Boulud’s Cod Basquaise
Total Cooking Time: 15-20 minutes
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, split and sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 bell peppers, red and green, cut into thin strips
1 tsp piment d’Espelette
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup white wine
4 plum tomatoes, peeled, split, seeds removed, cut into thin strips
4 5-oz filets of cod
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
1. In a shallow braising pan set over medium heat, warm 2 Tbsp of olive oil and add the onion, garlic and bell pepper.
2. Season with salt, piment d’Espelette and smoked paprika. Cook for 5 minutes, until the onion and peppers have softened, then add the white wine, tomato and cod.
3. Cover, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking 8 to 10 minutes, until the fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
4. Top with the chopped parsley and serve with crusty baguette.