Morrisons supermarket seems to sell parsley by the ton. On Saturday, I needed some to sprinkle onto my Merluza a la Plancha and to mix into the accompanying Spring Vegetables. That left me about 19cwt (19 hundredweight, for those unfamiliar with imperial weights, there being 20cwt in a ton) lurking in the fridge. Disliking waste, I thought I’d try a blast from the past and make an old-fashioned parsley sauce – something I had hitherto never made which may or may not be surprising. Racking the old grey cells, I seemed to recall that this usually accompanied steamed cod or haddock. So, off to the local Tescos to have a look. (We like to spread our favours around.)
As usual, most of the piscine offerings on the Tesco slab were drab and dull, sad-looking specimens which were entirely unappealing and which nobody should have considered purchasing. The haddock fillets were, however, a merciful exception so I bought one. (Of course, without eyes and gills it’s a bit difficult to gauge the freshness, in truth, but it smelt OK.) Together with some spinach, tenderstem broccoli and some new potatoes, though, I was set for a 60s revival.
For simple fare, this managed to dirty nearly every pan I possess – and I possess quite a few. Steam the broccoli above the potatoes (2 pans), sweat the spinach (another pan) which, of course, needed the excess moisture straining off (two colanders owing to the volume) before buttering (at least that’s in the same pan as before), Béchamel sauce as a base for the parsley sauce (measuring jug and small saucepan) and, the piece de resistance, steamed haddock (big, posh fish steamer on the special fish burner). Thank the Lord I have a five-burner stove.
I have to say that, having eaten it (I was hungry), I wondered why I’d bothered. Everything was cooked just as I wanted – at least I had not performed a 60s revival to the extent of cooking the vegetables to death, as was the tradition in those days. But the fish! Why anybody felt this way of dealing with cod/haddock worth documenting is entirely beyond me. It is essential flavourless, adding new depth to the term “bland”. Deep down, of course, I already knew that. I’ve often wondered why so many nations insist on expending so much effort vacuuming the seas dry of various members of the cod family but I had allowed myself to forget in a wave of nostalgia designed to use up 19cwt of parsley. Even when perfectly cooked, this is the kind of recipe that got English food a bad name in the 60s from which it took 20 years or so to recover.
Let’s give the poor old critically endangered cod family a chance to recover and leave them in the sea.