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Crunch and deep savoury flavours

Ali Slagle

THE WASHINGTON POST – In short, making dinner can be divided into two parts.

1. The technique – how you cook the ingredients, whether roasting, steaming, boiling or something else.

2. The flavouring of those ingredients – how do you make them taste great to you?

Mix and match these two components to unlock a lifetime of meals.

If only it was that easy. When you’re already hungry or fried, ideas can be elusive. How do I make that piece of fish (or chicken, tofu or lentils) taste different from last week’s version?

Scanning cookbooks, or searching the Internet, can help but also, think about deconstructing favourite recipes.

Blender sauces are prime candidates for this treatment. Before they were whizzed into a homogenous mixture, each of the ingredients carried its own individual flavour and texture. Reinterpreting the components of such sauces can be a seamless way to flavour a meal.

For example, you could roast a chicken and drag pieces through pesto. That’d be delightful!

Slow-roasted fish with sausages and chickpeas. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

But what if its outside was coated with grated Parmesan so it melted and crisped onto the chicken as it roasted. You could add whole cloves of garlic alongside so they caramelised in the bird’s fat. Why not toss pine nuts in there, too? Then, while the chicken is resting on a cutting board, we could toss in a sturdy green, such as frisee or escarole, or grains or pasta, into the schmaltzy garlic-pine nut mixture. A hit of fresh lemon juice will perk it up, as will a bunch of basil leaves.

Eat it all together and it’s chicken and pesto – sort of – but substantial, textured.

Dissect other blended recipes you enjoy and consider how each ingredient could be used differently. Mojo sauce has oranges, garlic, oregano and cumin. Muhammara is red bell peppers, walnuts, bread, lemon, pomegranate molasses, red chili and cumin.

Then, there’s romesco, the ruddy-red, nutty, smoky sauce from Catalonia usually made by blending charred or roasted red peppers, tomatoes and garlic with olive oil, vinegar, smoked paprika, almonds or hazelnuts, and bread to thicken. Its spirit and ingredients guide this one-pan fish dinner.

Here, we start by crisping cured Spanish sausages, which gives the dish smokiness. Then, stir in tomato paste, garlic and chickpeas, which stand in for the starchy bread, to warm and bloom. Add a few jarred red peppers and a little water, scraping up the flavourful browned bits. In a nod to the common Spanish and Portuguese combination of sausages and white fish, halibut (or cod or turbot) is placed atop the deep-red chickpea mixture and baked until tender.

The final flourish is a mixture of almonds, parsley and sherry vinegar. It gives crunch, freshness and acidity to an otherwise savoury, spoonable dish.

All the components together taste like romesco, but you can just call it dinner.


Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: 35 minutes
Four servings
Storage Notes: Leftover fish can be refrigerated for up to two days.


– One and a half pounds firm white fish, such as halibut, cut into four portions
– Three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided, plus more for rubbing the fish and as needed
– Fine salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– Four ounces Spanish sausages, casing removed, if necessary, and coarsely chopped
– Two (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
– Three tablespoons tomato paste
– Four garlic cloves, thinly sliced
– One (four-ounce) jar sliced or diced pimentos, drained (or the equivalent amount of sweet roasted pepper)
– Half cup water
– Half cup (five ounces) chopped roasted almonds (or toasted sliced almonds, see NOTE)
– One cup (one ounce) coarsely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves and thin stems
– One tablespoon vinegar


Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Pat the fish dry, rub it with a little bit of oil and lightly season with salt and pepper.

In a large Dutch oven or oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, heat two tablespoons of the oil until shimmering. Add the sausages and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp and brown, two to three minutes.

Stir in the chickpeas, tomato paste and garlic and cook, stirring, until the tomato paste is caramelised and a shade darker, three to five minutes. Add more oil if the pan seems dry. Remove from the heat and stir in the pimentos or roasted pepper and water, scraping up browned bits. Taste the chickpea mixture and season to taste with more salt and/or pepper, if desired.

Place the fish on top of the chickpea mixture, then transfer the Dutch oven or skillet to the oven. Roast for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the fish is opaque and cooked through.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the almonds, parsley, vinegar and the remaining one tablespoon of olive oil until combined.

Serve the fish from the skillet or portion onto plates. Before serving, sprinkle the almond-parsley mixture on top.

NOTE: To toast the almonds, to a small dry skillet over medium heat, add the nuts. Toss them frequently, until browned in spots and fragrant, three to five minutes. Sliced almonds will toast faster than whole almonds.

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