Cooking from cookbooks | Anja Dunk’s Bay and lemon baked cod

There is a deep-rootedness in Anja Dunk’s book Strudel, Noodles, and Dumplings: The New Taste of German Cooking, which comes through in this recipe — it is deceptively simple and very good. It is basic — and I mean this as the utmost compliment — and German (also high praise!). Unlike the French afterthought of a single bay leaf tucked within a bouquet garni to flavour a dish, this recipe uses bay as a prime ingredient. It also makes good use of butter, which resonates through a recent comment in which Anja described her German grandmother and great-grandmother’s influence like this: ‘they’re still the greatest force in our kitchen, cooking beside me, nudging my arm to the butter dish, always.’

There was something revelatory about the use of butter here, and I was the first to be surprised, since I don’t usually shy away from butter. But for some reason I’ve always cooked fish with olive oil, cream, or even toasted sesame oil — not butter. Sometimes the most obvious things need to be spelled out, and the German in me coaxed forth.

Which brings me to my recent decision, triggered by a happenstance conversation with a friend, to cook at least one dish every week faithfully from a recipe. Somewhere along the way I’ve stopped following recipes, but I’ve have grown weary of minute tweaks to well worn meals, devised, usually with the season at hand and the food on the shelves, as time-efficient ways to feed the family. It lacks excitement. Therefore this resolution, which has faltered a bit due to unexpected family-related trips abroad, but has just as quickly reaped good results.

This stripped down recipe, lithely anchored in the roots of a nation’s food culture, has already triggered a mini revolution in my kitchen: using bay leaf as a main flavour rather than a supporting cast member, and fish with butter. Of course!

Anja Dunk’s Bay and Lemon Baked Cod from Strudel, Noodles, and Dumplings: The New Taste of German Cooking
This is possibly the least likely recipe to be singled out from the book. In fact, it is just half the dish (!) as the full recipe pairs the fish with addictive-sounding paprika potatoes. But the story here is about this ‘half’ recipe. Imagine what the rest of the book can do!

Olive oil
8 bay leaves
4 x 200g cod or haddock fillets
1 Tbsp butter (I may have used a little more…)
Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 unwaxed thinly sliced lemon

Preheat the oven to 175°C.

Sprinkle a little olive oil in an ovenproof dish large enough to fit the fish comfortably. Place the bay leaves in the dish and lay the fish, skin side down, over the bay. Drizzle the fish with a little more olive oil and dots of butter. Season with salt and pepper and place the lemon slices on top.

Bake the fish in the oven for about 15 minutes, until it is just cooked through.

The full recipe in the book pairs this fish with paprika potatoes, for which I didn’t have the time when I made it, unfortunately.

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