A businessman arriving in Boston for a convention found that his first evening was free, and he decided to go find a good seafood restaurant that served scrod, a Massachusetts specialty. Getting into a taxi, he asked the cab driver, "Do you know where I can get scrod around here?" "People ask me that all the time," said the cab driver. "but it's the first time I hear this question in pluperfect indicative."*What can I say, the cafeteria scrod has scarred me for life. In case you are wondering what scrod is, it's a New England name for any lean white fish like cod, haddock, or hake. Even though I've lived in New England for the past 12 years, I've never cooked it until a few days ago. Not sure what inspired me. Could be a recipe exchange at the new Mom's group that I joined. Could be my students mentioning it in the fish class. Could be delirium from lack of sleep. But I saw a beautiful looking haddock at Costco and decided to give it a shot. This haddock was farmed in Iceland, and to my taste it has a better texture than the wild New England haddock -- more supple and a little closer to halibut rather than cod.
I always looked down on the New England practice to slather all fish with mayo. They even do it to bluefish which has more than enough of its own fat. I felt a little uneasy spreading mayo on haddock, but I wanted to do the right thing and make this dish the traditional way. To my delight, mayo turned out to be a great addition. It gave haddock a little bit of fat that it lacks and added some pleasant acidity too. For the bread crumbs, I used Japanese panko. They are fluffier and crunchier than the regular bread crumbs and make a really lovely topping. For accompaniments, I made some baby potatoes and leeks in a cream sauce. What can I say? It was really yummy. The fish was moist and juicy. The topping was crunchy and the sauce that formed naturally out of wine, cream, leek, and fish juices was so good we licked out plates.
Was it just a fun cultural experiment or good enough to do again? Definitely do again! I already made this the second time substituting potato leek mixture with thinly sliced tomatoes.
I finally feel like a true Bostonian.
Broiled Haddock with Breadcrumbs, Leeks, and Potatoes
cod, hake, pollock, sole, flounder, halibut, barramundi, or any other mild flaky fish
For the leeks:
1 large leek, white and pale green parts only
1 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup heavy cream
For the potatoes:
1 Lb boiling potatoes (such as yukon gold or red bliss)
1 cup water
1/2 cup dry white wine
1.5 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (or 3/4 table salt)
For the fish:
1 Lb haddock fillets without skin
3 Tbsp mayo
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Cook the leeks
- Cut the leek in half lengthwise. Then slice it cross-wise 1/3 inch thick. Wash in a bowl of water as described here.
- Set a 10 inch oven-proof skillet over medium heat. Add butter. When butter melts, add the leeks and a generous pinch of salt. Stir, cover, and cook until leeks are soft, about 5 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Don't wash the skillet yet.
- Slice potatoes 1/3 inch thick (if working with big potatoes, cut them in half first).
- Put the water, wine, and salt into the skillet where you cooked the leeks. Stir to combine. Add potatoes and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook until tender, about 20 minutes. If all the water evaporates before potatoes are tender, add a little more. In the end, you should have a very thin layer of liquid still left on the bottom (2-3 Tbsp).
- Sprinkle potatoes with a little black pepper. Add the leeks on top and drizzle with cream. Taste for salt and add as needed. The dish can be prepared up to this point a day in advance and chilled. Bring to a simmer on the stove top before proceeding.
- Preheat the oven to 300F (this is not a typo, it's low on purpose).
- In a small bowl, mix breadcrumbs with melted butter and set aside.
- Cut fish fillets as necessary so that they fill the whole skillet in an even layer. You might want to overlap the thin parts and fold over the tails to create a more even layer and avoid overcooking the thinner parts of the fish.
- Dry fillets thoroughly with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper on both sides. Arrange them on top of the leeks, top evenly with mayo, and sprinkle with bread crumbs. If some leeks are exposed, cover them with small pieces of foil to prevent them from burning under the broiler.
- Place under the broiler until the crumbs brown, about 2 minutes. How close to the broiler element to set the skillet depends on the intensity of your broiler (it could be anywhere from 2 to 6 inches away).
- Turn the oven back down to 300F, and bake the dish in the middle of the oven until the fish almost flakes, but is still a little translucent at the center, about 5 minutes. It will continue to cook after it's off the heat, so make sure to leave room for this carry-over cooking. Haddock is usually 1/2-3/4 inch thick. If substituting a different fish, the total cooking time (broiling plus baking) should be 10-12 minutes per inch of thickness. Test for doneness early and often.
- Let rest 5 minutes and serve.