Seafood Recipes, vegetables

Pan seared True cod, fiddleheads, fava’s, peas and asparagus, olive tapenade

April 8, 2008


“You say bloody hell a lot in your blog posts” said my father in a recent IM conversation with me. “Well, it is better than saying f***, I suppose” was the reply.. something I generally wouldn’t say to his face! He is a bright bloke, with an annoyingly large vocabulary – I haven’t often heard him swear, but when he did it would normally be some pretty minor words.

So, I am going to try and make it through this whole blog post without saying bloody hell, or any other swear word for that matter.

This is going to be tough, because this really sodding tasty. (sodding doesn’t count, right?)

Fiddleheads, fava beans, fresh shelled peas and asparagus are all sauteed in some butter and oil, with slices of garlic. The addition of basil right at the end really lightens the dish, and kicks it forwards towards the sun of summer.

The last week I have been thinking a bit about really light, clean, crisp flavors, but still with a little earthiness.

I can’t remember what day it was now, but we decided to Drake to Pikes Market. If anyone isn’t familiar with Pikes, it is a Seattle institution. An indoor farmers market, right on the water’s edge. Years ago they tried to drive it underground, and build condo’s on it – and thankfully that never happened. It has been around for ages. Not sure how long, go Google it. Anyhow, I normally steer well clear of Pikes Market, for a few reasons. Firstly, it is a big time tourist trap. There are some decent enough food stalls there, and a great butcher, but I always feel like I am being shafted on the price, because it is such a tourist area, and I have British accent. Secondly, the throwing fish blokes really annoy me. It is all show and no substance. Sorry, lobbing fish around doesn’t show much respect for seafood in my book. Give em their dues though, they have found a way to make some serious cash. If you do manage to get past the throngs of people being woo-ed by the salmon chucking, and the monkfish on a rope, then you will find a decent butchers next to it – Don and Joe’s Meats.

Anyhow, walking through the market with Drake was a bit of a laugh. He loves people, and the market was full of em. We happened upon a large veg stall, and I noticed that they had Fiddleheads. Knowing that I wasn’t going to get to a farmers market this weekend, I decided to buy some. And they had fava (broad) beans. I know I paid over the odds for them, but I was doubtful I would find either anywhere else I was going to be going in the next couple of days. So, the lady there bags me up some fiddles and fava’s, and we head out. I was holding Drake, so bagging up my own market spoils was going to be tough.

That unfortunately proved a rather stupid mistake. Thanks, lady, whoever you were. Yes, you were happy, and chatty, and bubbly. But you also completely ripped me off on the fiddleheads. Let me explain why…..


“So what are fiddleheads?” some of you ask.. Well, they are the unfurled shoot of a new fern. The tip if you wish. They are tightly coiled up, and look like the head of a fiddle. In not long at all, the little devils unfold into a fern, and thus become poisonous. So, the rule is to always make sure you buy fiddleheads that are tightly wound. Upon opening the bag when I got home, I found only half of them to actually be in an edible state. They were $14/lb, and that really ticked me off (very hard not to swear now..). Quite a few were unwound, some were just stalks without the heads.

It wasn’t a complete disaster, I had enough for the meal, but none the less, I only got half of what I paid for. I learnt my lesson… Never get veggies from her again, and always check the bag right there, if I don’t bag em myself. The dirty, evil, thieving bast***s. (oops.. I couldn’t help it).

Right.. so back to the dish.

This dish was really about all things great about spring, and a slight nod towards summer. Asparagus is starting to appear in the markets, fava beans are showing up, as are some great fresh peas. We should also not forget the great fiddlehead, which has a ridiculously short season, and I would consider one of the ultimate spring vegetables. I simply boiled the fiddleheads and fava’s for a couple of minutes, then plunged them into an ice bath. Sauteed the asparagus and peas with some shallots and garlic, in butter. The fiddleheads got added, as did the peeled fava’s. This got tossed with a little basil right at the end to freshen things up. Heck, you could even add some lemon juice if you wanted.

On top of that sat a lightly pan-seared piece of true cod. Sitting alongside (and rather over-done in the photos) was a great, quick olive tapenade.

So how did it go? It was outstanding. Not blowing my own trumpet, it is all down to the amazing freshness of the spring vegetables. They were perfectly crisp, with a great garlicy, buttery coating, which was well and truly punched into spring/summer by the addition of the basil. The tapenade brightened things up with its slight tartness.

What was really great was just how easy this whole thing was. I felt a little cheeky serving it to Danika’s parents to be honest. It took a wee bit of time, but wasn’t anything past cleaning vegetables, and sauteing them.

Here are the details.. I can really recommend trying this.


When buying, always make sure you buy the heads that are tightly wound up. Trim off and discard the stem about 1 inch away from the coil. Gently wash the filddleheads to remove any of the brown paper like cover on them. According to the government, you should make sure all fiddleheads are thoroughly cooked, to avoid the risk of food poisoning. I would be careful to make sure you don’t overcook them (they will be too soft), but make sure they are cooked.


Pan seared True cod, fiddleheads, fava’s, peas and asparagus, olive tapenade

(serves 4)

2lb of fresh true cod fillet

2 large handfuls of fava beans, still in their pods

2 large handfuls of fresh peans, still in their pods

1 handful of fiddleheads – tightly coiled only

1 bunch of asparagus

2 cloves of garlic

2 shallots, finely chopped

2 tablespoons of butter

1 small handful of fresh basil leaves – cut into thin strips (chiffonade)

olive oil

for the tapenade:

1 large handful of nicoise or kalamata olives – pitted

1 small handful of fresh parsley – finely chopped

3 tablespoons of capers – finely chopped

1 tablespoon of dijon mustard

really good olive oil

Set your oven to 350F

Start by taking the beans and peas out of their pods. Fava beans actually have an outer skin to them, which we need to remove, but this is easier after we boil them.

Cut the asparagus stems into 2″ lengths. Peel and thinly slice the garlic.

For the tapenade – Finely chop the olives, either by hand, or using a food processor. Put these in a bowl. Add the capers, parsley and dijon mustard. Stir to combine. Pour in a few tablespoons of the really good olive oil. Check the consistency, we want a bit of a paste, but with an olive-oil backbone to it. Try not to add too much though.

Get a large pot of water to the boil. Prepare and ice bath by putting a bunch of ice in a large bowl, and filling it with water.

Add the fiddleheads and fava beans to the boiling water. Boil for about 2 minutes. Transfer them straight to the ice bath. Let cool in there for a few minutes, remove and drain.

By boiling, and then shocking in an ice bath, we have managed to cook the fiddleheads and favas, but also keep their great bright green colors.

Using a fingernail, pierce through the outer skin of a fava bean, tear it open a bit, and push the bright green bean out. Do this for all the beans.

Get a large non-stick pan over a medium-high heat. Add some olive oil, and let it get hot.

In another large pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter, and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the shallots to this pan, and cook gently for 5 minutes, until soft. Add the garlic, and cook for another couple of minutes.

Meanwhile, add the fish, flesh side down, to the first pan. Cook this for about 5 minutes, until that side is lightly seared. Flip the fish over, and put the pan in your oven. If your pans aren’t oven safe, then transfer the fish to a pan that is. Cook in the oven for about 6 to 7 minutes, until the fish is cooked through, and flakes easily with a knife. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of the fish.

Add the asparagus to the shallots/garlic pan. Stir to combine. Cover and let cook for about 5 minutes. Add the peas (not the beans), stir, and cover for another couple of minutes. Add the final tablespoon of butter if things are looking dry. Add the fiddleheads and fava beans to pan, and cook for another couple of minutes.

That’s it.. on to plating. Gently spoon the vegetable mixture into the center of four plates. Top with the cod. Add a little tapenade around the outside of the plate. Serve immediately.

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  • Judy April 8, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Yummmm. That meal sounds incredible. I love fiddleheads. Certainly can’t get them here in Florida but when I was growing up in Toronto we had them every spring. I would love to try this…maybe next year!

  • Thip April 9, 2008 at 3:34 am

    Hi Matt,
    As your blog looks very good. Your cooking and baking are great. Your photography is excellent. I’d like to pass on an E award to you. 😉
    Check it out @

  • mattwright April 9, 2008 at 5:05 am

    Hi Judy
    This can be made without fiddleheads, and it would still honestly taste just as good. The taste of the fiddleheads is pretty close to asparagus as you know (well, er.. that is the closest thing I can think of), so leaving them out wouldn’t be a huge deal. They do look cute on a plate though.

  • Brittany April 9, 2008 at 6:08 am

    You know your’e a true Seattleite when you avoid Pike like the effing plague!
    I am so glad someone finally mentioned the way the fish chuckers are destroying perfectly good seafood!! You don’t want to get our mutual delivery guy started on that one….
    By the way- I loooooove fiddleheads! This looks great, and worth tourist battling to procure.

  • Rob April 9, 2008 at 12:46 pm


    look, it makes me spit when i read “ex-pats” who use the term “british accent”. no such thing exists. I call shenanagins. I adore your recipies but when I read americanisms about my culture I want to smack someone mainly because its a very naive, hugh grant-esque generalisation.

    If you are a geniune explorer (I understand, I’ve been living in the champagne-ardenne for 9 months now) you would understand my nit picking.

    Whats french for fiddlehead?

  • mattwright April 9, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Heya Rob
    Nice to hear you in a such a good mood! OK, I should say “southern English accent”, but you are the first person I have seen that has a chip on their shoulder with that. To me, British accent covers a wide range of sub-accents (my own term..).. Many people in the UK refer to “american accents”, when again, no such thing exists. In the grand scheme of things, to me it really doesn’t matter.

    I am glad that you like my recipes, and am amused that you call it shenanagins. I will make sure I put more national generalisations in, to make sure you keep coming back and posting comments.

  • jack April 10, 2008 at 12:37 am

    No way! We just picked up some fiddleheads from the Ballard farmers’ market on Sunday, and I was going to go home and do a salmon and fiddlehead dish. We’ll see how ours turns out… I think I’m going to go for some wok-char on the fiddleheads.

    Great photos, and great writing! I’ll be a regular reader…

  • White On Rice Couple April 11, 2008 at 5:52 am

    The only fiddle heads I’ve had were the ones that we collected in the backcountry of Western Washington State. Now that I know that they’re bloody $14 lb, I would have savored them more!
    I apologize to your dad…
    BTW- you do great things with olive tapenade. Our favorites right now are obregon olives marinated in oil and Mediterranean herbs. Have you had obregons before? They are really soft, meaty and juicy olives!

  • mattwright April 11, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    WoRC – It is funny, my parents-in-law must have a couple of thousand ferns in their backyard, I wonder if they are the right kind to produce fiddleheads.. talk about a gold-mine if they are!!

    I have never had obregon olives, not that I can remember anyhow – I will certainly have to give them a try.

    I really like tapenade with seafood, it is a great spread on bread, alongside mussels, or like here – served as somewhat of a sauce, if you will – I find it lightens the plate

  • Meg April 12, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    Hmm, well I’m with you and not with you on Pike Place Market. My kids love it, and take more interest in food there than they do at regular grocery stores. And although the fruit and vegetable stalls are (often, but not always) more expensive than, say, the University Farmers market, they’re still less expensive than Whole Foods- and the quality is usually better. Always? No. But I’m reluctant to write the place off simply because the tourists like it; that seems like a reflex reaction rather than a considered choice. Also, I really like both the Spanish Table and DeLaurenti, and am fond of Don & Joe’s, too. However, I, too, go to Mutual Fish (I don’t want $60+ lbs of salmon thrown around like a football, either, thankyouverymuch).

  • Schufafrei April 12, 2008 at 7:17 pm

    Ohh nice picture..I m feeling hungry after see it.

  • mattwright April 13, 2008 at 4:44 am

    Hi Meg – I can certainly see why your kids would take more interest in food there – the denisty of food stuff is truely great. There are some great stores there indeed, as you mnetion – Spanish Table and Delaurenti certainly – Don and Joes is nice too – seems like an old fashioned butchers, which I really like to see.

    The problem I have is not that it is infected with tourists, it is that the prices are jacked up because there are tourists there. For the most part the produce is decent – but generally you aren’t “buying from the farmer”.. you are buying stuff from all over the world, at a frut and veg stall. Nothing at all wrong with that, but I do like farmers markets where you are buying from local farms.

    The fish guys just piss me off to be honest. Salmon are not in infinite supply, and to toss one around like it is shows a blatant lack of respect for the environment.

  • Jennie April 16, 2008 at 1:03 am

    Beautiful post, Matt! So glad you came over to my blog to comment on my fiddleheads….now I have a new blog to read! 🙂

  • Christel from Canada April 16, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    My goodness what a dish! Matt, you sure know how to pick-em’! I’ll be trying this one this weekend too : ) Thanks, keep up the great stuff

  • Jadeane April 25, 2008 at 11:34 am

    That looks wonderful! We just love fiddleheads too! Thx for sharing!