Seared Cod & Roasted Tomatoes with a Tarragon Vinaigrette

Monday, February 11, 2013

I am pulling out another gem from the vault that I think you all will like! This recipe was a dish I did for my family when I was home for the holidays recently, so you'll see a change in scenery for this post as far as the photos go. I hesitated in posting this one as I had it in my mind to redo it at home using my new skillets, but that idea was quickly getting buried under a long list of other recipes I'd like to move on and try. I was cooking in my parents' kitchen when I made this, which was an adventure in and of itself. Their kitchen is about 50 times bigger than my little ol' apartment. Two ovens, a gas range, and all of the counter space a kitchenista could dream of, so as far as that goes I was in heaven. But even though I used to live there many moons ago, it is always a bit of a challenge working in a new environment with tools and cookware that aren't yours. I worked it out, but now I fully understand why so many chefs travel with their own knives and equipment! My inspiration for this dish was simply the ingredients that jumped out at me when we got to the grocery store - not just any grocery store, but Wegmans, one of my favorite places to shop when I'm home in Northern Virginia. If you have a Wegmans in your area I highly recommend taking that trip. They have an awesome produce section with an amazing selection of organic food, lots of specialty and gourmet food items, and incredible in-store dining. When I worked in that area, their pizza, sushi and sub stations were always a favorite for lunch. That bread is to die for, let me tell you.

It's funny how your perspective changes over time, so might I say the prices were really high compared to what I'm used to seeing down here in Florida. Especially the seafood. I had a rather embarrassing encounter at the seafood counter that afternoon. I saw all of these beautiful fillets available, so immediately my mind went towards doing some kind of seared fish for dinner. The Rockfish looked great and since it was a local fish I figured it was a good choice. I picked out two pounds of fillets, and as the price displayed on the scale my heart did a deep sea dive. It came out to well over $50. Um, yeah...maybe I should have taken note of the $25/lb price tag clearly displayed on the window! As  nothing else really stood out to me once I considered the cost, I sheepishly asked the lady to point me in the direction of the frozen cod fish. Womp womp.

Needless to say I was a little disappointed not to find a suitable fresh fish for the recipe I had in mind, but I did find some frozen fillets that turned out to be just fine. If you can buy fresh local fish I am always an advocate of such, but sometimes you've gotta do the best you can with what's available!

So that said, let's talk about this recipe.  It's fairly straight forward so it's another easy one to tweak with your choice of fish, herbs and veggies. I chose to work with cod fish, organic sweet potatoes, Haricots Verts, and cherry tomatoes. My new ingredient in the mix was tarragon, an herb I had never previously used in my dishes.  I knew enough from my research that it is a good compliment to seafood dishes, so I went ahead and decided to give it a try here, along with flat leaf parsley. Tarragon has what I could describe as a floral  flavor to it with a hint of licorice much like fennel. I thought it was bright, noticeable but not overpowering to the fish, and had an interesting flavor to it that rejuvenated my taste buds a bit. It was a little scary stepping out of my cilantro and mint comfort zone, however tarragon is definitely going to be making more appearances in my kitchen.

I've separated the recipe ingredients into each of the separate components of the dish, to make it easier for you to do all or part of what I cooked (but I hope you try everything, because it really did come together nicely.) If you'll notice in a lot of my dishes, there's a pretty common theme of plating a seared fish (or meat) and accompanying sauce atop some type of mash or puree, along with a simple veggie side. It's a formula that works consistently for me in coming up with composed dishes when I'm not feeling particularly inventive. Occasionally I will replace the mashed root veggie with a rice or pasta, but because we were so close to Christmas dinner (also known as Thanksgiving Part 2), I wanted to keep this dish as low-carb as possible. Many sauces are also laden with butter, so I wanted to avoid that and opted for a vinaigrette instead.  The result was a dish that looked and tasted a lot fancier than the ingredients that went into making it, which is always a win in The Kitchenista Diaries.

Seared Cod & Roasted Tomatoes with a Tarragon Vinaigrette

4 skinless boneless cod fillets, approx. 6 oz. each
2 c. organic cherry tomatoes
2 large sweet onions
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

For the Tarragon Vinaigrette:
2/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 c. lemon juice (approx. 2 lemons)
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh tarragon
1 tbsp finely chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Agave nectar
½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
½ tsp black pepper
Sea salt, to taste

For the Sweet Potato Mash:
4 small organic sweet potatoes
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
Sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

For the Haricots Verts:
3 c. fresh Haricots Verts (French green beans)
2 yellow bell peppers
4 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste

Serves: 4
Prep Time: 20 min
Cook Time: 1 hour, including roasting the potatoes
Equipment Needed: Two large skillets, roasting pan.

Preheat oven to 400°.

Wash sweet potatoes. Pierce potatoes several times with a fork and wrap tightly in aluminum foil. Roast until tender, approximately 45 minutes to an hour. One thing I did appreciate cooking at my parents' house is having that convection oven back in my life. Goodness gracious, I forgot how much faster it is than standard ovens!

I recommend placing the potatoes in some type of dish or on a baking sheet to avoid drips; the sugary liquid that oozes out of sweet potatoes can be a pain in the ass to clean once it burns. Alternatively, potatoes can be baked in the microwave to speed up your prep time.  While the potatoes roast, you can continue on with the rest of your prep work.

Peel and slice onions into wedges and toss with tomatoes, olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. If your tomatoes are particularly large, you may want to halve them first.  These will roast for 30 to 45 minutes, or until tomatoes start to burst and onions are slightly charred. I put them in the oven about 20 minutes after the sweet potatoes so everything was ready around the same time.

To prepare vinaigrette, zest one lemon and juice both. Always be sure to wash your lemons before zesting, especially if they are not organic! Most produce from the grocery store is coated in wax and nobody wants that in their food.

In a small dish, combine lemon zest, lemon juice, mustard, agave nectar, tarragon, parsley, garlic, red pepper flakes, and black pepper.  If you don't have agave, honey is a great substitution.

Whisk briskly while slowly pouring in the olive oil. You can do this step in a food processor or blender if you're so inclined, but I didn't find it to be necessary this time.

When all of the olive oil has been incorporated, you should have a thin vinaigrette with slightly creamy consistency that coats the back of a spoon. Season it to taste with a little sea salt.

To prepare green beans, cut the tops and bottoms off the yellow bell pepper. Remove core and seeds and julienne into thin strips.

Heat a large skillet over medium high. Add olive oil. When oil is hot, add yellow peppers and sauté until peppers start to caramelize, approximately 10 minutes.

Stir in minced garlic and green beans; toss well to coat green beans in oil and garlic. Continue to sauté until green beans are crisp tender. Reduce heat to low and cover until ready to serve.

When sweet potatoes can be pierced easily with a knife, remove from oven. Scoop out the cooked flesh and mash thoroughly. Stir in olive oil and parsley; season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. Cover and set aside.

The tomatoes should be ready around the same time as well. Remove from oven and cover with foil to keep warm.

The fish should be prepared last as it takes very little time to cook and you’ll want everything else to be ready to plate first. If using frozen cod fish make sure the fillets are thoroughly thawed. Pat fish dry. Rub fillets with one tablespoon of the olive oil and season each side generously with sea salt and black pepper.

Add remaining olive oil to a heavy skillet heated over high heat. You’ll want to lightly coat the skillet to prevent sticking.

When oil is just shy of smoking, place cod fish into skillet, top down. You will most likely only be able to fit one or two fillets at a time, and that’s fine - don’t crowd the pan or the fish will steam and not sear. Allow to sear 2-3 minutes depending on thickness. You should get a nice golden crust on the fish. This would have been spectacular in a cast iron skillet. Sigh. I'm going to have to start dating my posts B.C. for "before cast iron" if I take anything else out of the vault!

Carefully flip fish over to sear the other side, 2-3 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Remove from heat and set aside, covering loosely with foil. Continue cooking remaining fillets. If you have particularly thick fillets, I recommend a quick sear on each side and transferring (in an oven-proof skillet) to the oven to finish cooking until done.

To plate this dish, place a scoop of sweet potato mash off-center. Add some green beans and peppers alongside the potatoes. Place the cod fish filet atop the potatoes & green beans and drizzle with vinaigrette. Spoon tomatoes and onions over the fish; if desired garnish with a lemon slice.

Beautiful isn't it? Proof that you don't need to spend a lot of money to create something fabulous!

If you enjoy my recipes & food related posts on FacebookTwitterTumblr and Instagram, please cast a vote for me in the 2013 Shorty Awards! I'm going for an award in the #food category, which recognizes excellence and innovation in social media. Nominations close at the end of February, so I'd appreciate your continued support!

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