This is a recipe for those of you who like to break rules. My late husband, Slater, was a great rule-breaker, and when I discovered this recipe, I knew it would amuse him – and it did.
I met Slater at the 1983 Edinburgh TV Festival when this complete stranger with a lovely smile and curly hair waltzed up to me with the line, “I couldn’t decide whether to look at you or Jonathan Miller”, before disappearing into the crowd. I was much amused by this opening chat up line as Jonathan Miller, the renowned theatre and opera director, had given the opening address to the TV festival.
Three days later, after many smiles across crowded rooms, this stranger invited me to lunch and I discovered his name – “John Slater, but everyone calls me Slater”. He charmed me with his enthusiasms, his intelligence, his rebellious streak (something I shared), and his smile. By the end of lunch we had cooked up a plan to leave the festival early and head south to the Lake District – and that is how our 21 years of life together began.
Slater’s rule breaking tendencies arose from his ability to question everything and to not believe what the ‘authorities’ said. When I met him, he was already well established in television as an investigative documentary maker. He’d worked on many ‘World in Action’ documentaries: making films about the tobacco industry; researching the dangers of asbestos (ironically, it was asbestos in the Granada studios that caused his death from mesothelioma all those years later); exposing the financial lies behind the Sellafield nuclear reactor.
As I was fifteen years younger than him, he often made me feel quite naïve at times. “That’s codswallop! You don’t believe that do you?” he would say.
Gradually I learned that his innate distrust of governments and politicians was well-founded, and when, many years later, we produced “Geiger Sweet, Geiger Sour”, a 90 minute documentary for the BBC on the history of radiation, atomic bombs, and nuclear power, we were able to reveal many tales of government and military coverups in the UK, Russia, America, and Japan.
Slater’s rule-breaking and constant challenging of authority covered all aspects of his life. The 80s was an era when smart restaurants insisted men wear ties (Slater never did) – he would either knot a borrowed tie around his collar or we would leave. He refused to wear dinner jackets so we missed out on quite a few award ceremonies and, as for table settings, when fish was served with fish knives, he would always ask for a ‘proper’ knife. When I asked why, he told me that fish knives were a Victorian invention and he hated the fake pomp and snobbery of the Victorian era.
So this was the reason I tried cooking this recipe for him – because it broke the rules!
Not only did it involve cooking white fish in red wine, you also served the red wine with the finished dish. Slater loved it and he often asked me to cook it for friends when they came to stay, just to surprise them.
It’s a recipe that has stayed in my repertoire, long after his death, but when I cook it, I tip my hat to the chance that led to me sharing so many years with him.
Cod with Green Peppercorns and Red Wine – Feeds two, takes 40 minutes to prepare
250 gm of cod steak
4 large ripe, red tomatoes, skinned and chopped
2 tsps green peppercorns in brine
200 cl red wine
300 cl double cream
150 gm unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to season the flour, and salt to season the dish
2-3 tbsp flour
Place the tomatoes in a large bowl, cover with boiling water, and after 5-10 minutes, remove and peel off the skins. Chop the tomatoes into chunks, making sure to remove as many of the seeds as possible. Put in a bowl ready for cooking later.
Drain the green peppercorns and rinse with water. Drain again, then crush them in a pestle and mortar.
Cut the cod into large chunks and toss in seasoned flour to coat each piece. In a large heavy-based frying pan, heat the butter to sizzling and add the fish. With a slice, turn the cod pieces quickly – you’re aiming to get a crispy golden colour without cooking for too long. As soon as you’ve achieved that, remove from the pan and place on a board covered with kitchen paper and cover with foil (the fish pieces will continue cooking later when you return them to the sauce).
Now add the red wine to the pan, scraping all the floury bits off the base of the pan. Raise the heat and boil off the wine until you begin to have a syrupy sauce. Add the chopped tomatoes with the green peppercorns, and cook until the tomatoes start to soften (about 10-15 minutes).
Return the fish pieces back to the pan and when everything is beginning to bubble gently, add the cream, bring back to gentle bubbling point, and simmer for about 4-5 minutes. Taste for seasoning (I added half a teaspoon of salt), stir in and it’s ready to serve.
I usually serve it with basmati rice, and a green vegetable – in this case, freshly steamed baby courgettes.
And don’t forget to serve the rest of the red wine with the meal!