Michel Roux Jr. took a big swig from his Manchester United mug with a cheeky grin. I had no idea he was a football fan. Around us, the wait staff at Le Gavroche tiptoed around setting up. The camera was rolling and Michel was about to share the recipe for a classic French dish, and one of his favourites: Aioli of cod.
“This is a dish that I cook in the summer months in my house in France. It’s a great French classic and it’s one of the simplest dishes I’ve ever come across but it gives immense pleasure to both those eating it and for those cooking. But it’s so simple that you have to get everything spot on. There’s no hiding place!”
“An aioli of cod is simply a piece of cod poached at a very low temperature, served with blanched vegetables and a good, pungent garlic mayonnaise.”
“Skrei cod is very seasonal early on in the year. You’ll need to fillet it from the bone, and I would say now that filleting fish is a skill that all chefs should really have. You can’t waste fish on the bone.”
“There’s also nothing more dangerous than a blunt knife, by the way!”
At this point, Michel took us through to the Le Gavroche kitchen and began setting up with ingredients on the pass. Taking an enormous side of Skrei cod, he cut a beautiful pavé from the thickest part of the fillet.
“This is really, really thick,” Michel continued, holding up the cut. “And we’re going to poach it gently in a court-bouillon, which is a mix of wine and aromatics.”
“The water should never boil. This is real slow cooking so the fish doesn’t get stressed and hard. Traditionally, to see if the cod is ready, one simply takes it out of the pot and checks with hands and eyes. And when it's ready, you put it on the plate and you can see those wonderful flakes of cod. I’m salivating just talking about it!”
With the cod submerged, Michel moved onto the garnish.
“This should, again, be simple as you would in the south of France. Baby fennel, broccoli or cauliflower and boiled potatoes. Nothing more. The vegetables are simply a vehicle for the garlic mayo.”
“It’s almost a festive dish, something to bring to the table for friends and family. I could go on forever about it!”
And with the beautiful cod plated, we dug in. There was something almost spiritual about the texture and flavour as it was just so delicate and, as Michel said, simple. It almost felt wrong to disturb.