Fishy Alternative

Cod with Chorizo Mussels and Saffron Aioli

By now you’ve eaten just about all the turkey, or roast, or whatever it is you eat over the holidays – that you can stand, right? I mean, I do love me some sweet potato casserole, and I thoroughly enjoy being torn in three over all the pie choices. I can’t imagine skipping Aunt Faye’s chicken pastry, cornbread, and homemade buttermilk biscuits although I easily skip over the collard greens, as I have managed to do for 29 years now. Our families could feed a small village with all the sweets they prepare (not to mention the biscotti I made which is only slightly addictive), and let’s just say that the amount of treats I consume is no small accomplishment either.


But when it comes right down to it, as good as the holiday food is, for me there’s no better feeling than whipping up a special meal at home. And after all the poultry and beef I’m sure we’ve all consumed these past few weeks I have to admit I’m more than ready to veer away from the land animals for just a bit. (And I mean just a bit). That being said, I think it’s time to take a lil’ dip into the ocean. I found the perfect dish for you – one I’ve been meaning to share for quite some time now.

'imported' Spanish chorizo
Not to worry – ocean creatures are very friendly with chorizo. And where there’s Spanish chorizo, there’s usually some saffron floating around too. This here folks, this is no different. And it’s mighty fine. Mighty fine indeed.

saffron-infused lime juice

I know many of you will scoff at the dishes that have multiple components. This is totally one of them. But wait! I’m sure you’ll change your mind when I tell you one of those components is a few big fat egg-soaked sourdough croutons and one of the others is saffron mayo. Yes, saffron! and, mayo! and croutons! You’ll forget you’re eating fish – not that eating fish is a bad thing, but it isn’t pork stew, that’s for sure :). But this fishy dish? This one is rich and hearty enough to make you think you’re eating that stew again – a perfect seafood recipe for the cold nights.

awesome sourdough croutons
You know what’s also awesome about the croutons and mayo? They can both easily be used again, so you’re really doubling up on the fantasticness. The croutons are great in any soup or stew I can think of and can sop up those juices with grace. The mayo – oh boy – a perfect addition to a sandwich or burger – especially a chickpea-pesto burger with arugula. The rest of the dish is fairly easy, so if you remind yourself of the wonderful recycling properties of croutons and saffron mayo, you’ve got yourself one great meal and a whole lotta repeat variety to boot.

cod with aioli

Cod with Mussels, Chorizo, Fried Croutons & Saffron Mayonnaise
Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2009; serves 4

printable version


saffron mayo
1.5 t fresh lime juice
pinch of saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 T evoo
1/4 t hot pepper sauce

2 T olive oil
1/4 c chopped shallots
4 garlic cloves
1 t dried crushed red pepper
pinch of saffron threads
1/2 c dry white wine
2 lbs mussels, scrubbed and debearded
4 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 c smoked Spanish chorizo, diced
1/4 c finely diced seeded tomato
1/4 c finely diced roasted red pepper from jar
1 T chopped fresh parsley

fried croutons
2 large eggs
1/2 c low fat milk
1/4 t cayenne pepper
12 1-inch torn pieces sourdough bread (5 oz)

1 8 oz bottle clam juice
1 c dry white wine
1 12-oz cod fillet, cut into 4 equal pieces
2 T olive oil

saffron mayonaise
Mix lime juice and saffron in small bowl. Let stand 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Whisk in mayonnaise, oil, and hot pepper sauce. Cover and chill at least 4 hours to allow flavors to develop. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Keep refrigerated.

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, crushed red pepper, and saffron and sauté 4 minutes. Add wine; bring to boil. Add mussels and thyme; cover and cook until mussels open, about 5 minutes (discard any mussels that do not open). Strain mussel broth into large saucepan; add chorizo, tomato, roasted pepper, and parsley to liquid. Remove mussels from shells. DO AHEAD: Mussels and cooking broth can be made 6 hours ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate.

fried croutons
Pour enough oil into heavy large saucepan to reach depth of 3 inches. Attach deep-fry thermometer to side of pan. Heat oil to 350°F. Whisk eggs, milk, and cayenne in large bowl. Add bread; stir to coat. Let soak 2 minutes. Drain off excess liquid. Working in batches, add bread to hot oil and cook until brown, turning as necessary, about 2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels and drain.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bring clam juice and wine to simmer in small saucepan. Pour into 7×5-inch baking dish. Add cod pieces to dish; sprinkle with salt and drizzle with oil. Bake until fish is opaque in center, basting with poaching liquid twice, about 8 minutes.

Bring mussel broth to simmer. Add mussels and heat through. Divide mussels and broth among 4 shallow soup bowls. Top each with piece of cod, 3 croutons, and dollop of saffron mayonnaise.

Viva Barcelona


The other day I was trying to wedge a freshly made container of fig & sour cream ice cream onto one of the shelves of my too-small-for-my-liking-and-definitely-too-narrow freezer section of my side-by-side fridge. In my opinion, these sorts of fridges are stupid. Who wants a fridge that can’t even hold a box of take-out pizza? And the freezer – don’t get me started. It’s not like I’m some crazy person who freezes everything I can get my hands on ….. I mean, geezz… can’t a girl put ice cream in the freezer without having to clear off an entire shelf, meanwhile rearranging all the other shelves to do said clearing!?

To top it all off – as if it couldn’t get worse than not having room for ice cream – it’s really shameful when my ice cream runs low (which happens often with a human Dyson named Chris in the house) and I can’t even put the part of the ice cream maker that has to get frozen before making more ice cream into the stupid freezer without first eating the rest of the other ice cream. What’s so bad about planning ahead? So I’d come to a conclusion – my freezer is out to get me. And no – these are not paranoid delusions. The feeling was real.

spanish chorizo

But moments after cursing at the freezer and whining about how bad we need a brand new energy efficient fridge with a bottom-drawer freezer, the damn thing redeemed itself. Momentarily. In the midst of moving about items in the freezer, out popped a lil’ nubbin of Spanish chorizo. All of a sudden, all was good in the world and I loved my freezer for being so full that it nudged the chorizo out and into view. I felt as if that nubbin o’ sausage were a direct trip to Spain, and I immediately stood there, freezer door wide open, and started drooling. I was drolling because I knew what that chorizo-action meant – it was time for another round of paella.

making paella

I’ve made this dish a handful of times. That one sentence should automatically tell you something about its tastiness. If you’re clueless, here’s a hint: I rarely make something twice. There are just too many recipes out there to stick around and keep making the same thing. The only other dish I remember recently repeating is Pad Thai. And that’s because I can make it at home and have it taste just as good as the restaurants’ versions, but healthier and not loaded with oil. And then I can order all the other Thai dishes at the restaurants.
Paella is different. It’s loaded with veggies – tomatoes, peppers, peas – and the only oil used (in this recipe) is the oil from the chorizo, which gives an extra boost of flavor. For non-Spanish folk, it’s considered the national dish of Spain. But to the Spaniards, it’s considered a regional Valencian dish (a region of Spain on the east coast). Nevertheless, go to Spain and you won’t have a problem finding paella. Your problem, my friend, will be deciding what type of it to consume.

paella - almost there!

Perhaps you’re not heading over to España any time soon. Sadly, I know I’m not either. But last year, I did smuggle purchase some lovely Spanish chorizo from La Boqueria in Barcelona. And that nubbin that jumped outta the freezer isn’t the last of it – I have a whole unopened link hiding somewhere in the trenches of that horrible favorite freezer of mine. If you can locate some Spanish chorizo and a pinch of saffron, you’ve done the hardest part of making this dish. And you might ask, “well what about that Mexican chorizo in the g-store? Can I use that?”, and my answer is, “not no, but holy heck no”. It doesn’t taste anything like its’ magical smoky Spanish cousin, and it damn sure isn’t studded with hot paprika. Read below for more info:

paella up close and personal

More about Paella: There’s three primary types: Valencian, seafood, and mixed. Valencian is the traditional paella with white rice, green vegetables, meat, snails, and beans. Seafood paella omits beans and green veg’s and replaces meat and snails with seafood. Mixed? yeah, that’s both, like a “kitchen sink” paella. But there’s many iterations aside from these three. The word ‘paella’ is Catalan (one of Spain’s many languages other than Spanish) and comes from the Latin word, patella, which means pan. Some people have special pans just for making paella – they’re typically round, shallow, and made of polished steel with two handles.

Tips: First, read here for a good chorizo review. Click here to buy Spanish chorizo online if you can’t find it in your area. If all else fails and you just can’t find it or you want to make paella without waiting for your mail-order shipment, substitute kielbasa. But next time, get the real thing. For realz.

Seafood Paella w/ Chorizo
Adapted from Cooking Light, June 2008; serves 4

1/2 c dry white wine
1/4 t saffron threads, crushed
3 oz Spanish chorizo sausage, cut into 1/4 inch thick slices*
1 c coarsely chopped onion (~ 1 medium)
2/3 c coarsely chopped red bell pepper (~ 1 small)
1/2 t hot paprika
1/4 t salt
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 c uncooked short-grain rice
1 c low sodium chicken broth or chicken stock
1 8 oz bottle of clam juice
1 c chopped plum tomato (~ 1 tomato)
1/2 c frozen green peas
12 littleneck clams
1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled & deveined

Combine wine and saffron in small bowl and let stand 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large nonstick skillet over med-hi. Add chorizo and cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove chorizo from pan. Add onion and pepper and cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in paprika, salt, garlic and cook 1 minute. Return chorizo to pan. Add wine mixture, rice, broth, clam juice and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and cook 15 minutes or until most liquid is absorbed. Stir in tomato, peas, clams, and shrimp. Cover and cook 5 minutes or until clams open slightly. If any clams do not open, discard them.

*No – don’t do it! do not substitute Mexican chorizo here as it is totally different. If you don’t have or can’t find Spanish chorizo (which isn’t sold in most grocery stores, including Whole Foods, at least last time I checked) use kielbasa