Last night, to round off a week of celebrations around A Hundred Words for Butterfly, and to keep up the Basque theme, I made the dish known as ‘merlu koskera’, which is a beloved fish and vegetable soup/stew popular up and down the Basque coast, on both sides of the border, from Biarritz to San Sebastian and beyond. If ttoro, the delicious fish and seafood soup from the Basque coast, which I featured in an earlier post, is flamboyant in its rich redness, merlu koskera is themed around green and white, the other colours of the Basque flag. Traditionally, it’s a spring dish that features ‘merlu’, a type of cod, with seafood, asparagus, peas and boiled eggs as other ingredients, cooked in a delicious sauce of fish stock and white wine, and flavoured with parsley, garlic and piment d’Espelette. But as with most Basque dishes, it’s a flexible thing that can be interpreted according to what you have on hand, and that’s what I did. Here in Australia we can’t get merlu, so I substituted Pacific cod(bought frozen from the supermarket) and as our peas are not yet ready, it being a bit too early in spring for that, I substituted spinach for them. The asparagus though is ready so a bunch of them, fresh-picked from the garden, went into the dish, along with boiled eggs and prawns. (Mussels and clams are also popular additions in the Basque country). And of course piment d’Espelette (for which as I’ve indicated before, you can at a pinch substitute hot non-smoked paprika). My version of the dish was also less on the soupy side, more on the stewy side instead! If you want more soupy, add more fish stock than what I’ve indicated here.
So here’s my version of merlu koskera:
Ingredients (for 2 people): bunch of asparagus, steamed; handful of ‘English’ spinach, lightly steamed; 2 small/medium fillets cod; 6 prawns (or any other seafood you want); 2-3 boiled eggs; chopped parsley; 3 cloves garlic, sliced; half a cup of fish stock; splash white wine; pinch piment d’Espelette; salt to taste.
Lightly flour the cod fillets, and fry till the coating is getting golden. Add the parsley and garlic, lightly fry(do not let it burn). Add the fish stock and white wine and simmer for about 5 mins. Meanwhile, quickly cook the prawns in a little olive oil, set aside. Add the cooked spinach to the fish mix, stir(without disturbing the fish, add prawns and asparagus, heat through, quickly. Take pan off heat, arrange everything, including the halved boiled eggs, in a large dish or bowl, with the spinach down the bottom, the cod on top and everything else arranged around it. Sprinkle with the piment d’Espelette and serve with bread and boiled potatoes if you want. And that’s it!
Note: If you want to do the whole traditional thing, the peas(pre-cooked) go in at the same time as the spinach did in my version.