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A Roasted Cod With Old Bay Potatoes Recipe to Tide Over Seaside Cravings

A riff on fish and chips, this dinner for one evokes a day at the ocean, tartar sauce included

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A plate of cod and fried potatoes and tartar sauce, garnished with a lemon on a cloudy sky backdrop Photo illustration by Lille Allen; see below for full credits

If you spend the summer someplace where crab cakes and fish and chips are readily available, bless. If you don’t, I’ve got something to evoke those classics and tide you over until you’re living your best life seaside.

This simply roasted cod filet is paired with Old Bay-dusted smashed potatoes and a punchy tartar sauce to dip and douse over everything.

Start by filling a 3-quart saucepan with water and a couple of big pinches of kosher salt. Just like when blanching asparagus for my marinated bean salad — and even more thematically on point now — the water should be nearly as salty as the ocean. If you’re nervous that you haven’t made it salty enough, taste it. Throw in a half-pound of small potatoes. (Fingerlings work, as do any other variety that measures about 1½ inches in diameter.) Turn the heat to high and wait for the water to simmer. Once it does, set a timer for nine minutes.

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Meanwhile, as the potatoes are heating, make your tartar sauce. (Don’t forget to keep one eye on the pot so you can see when the water starts to bubble.) In a small bowl, combine ½ cup mayonnaise, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1½ teaspoons lemon juice, 1 tablespoon finely chopped pickles (I’m partial to cornichons), 1 tablespoon finely chopped capers, and a couple cranks of freshly ground black pepper. These are all nonnegotiable. Where you have some discretion is with the other ingredients. I add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped dill, but I’ve read a ton of tartar sauce recipes and others prefer parsley, chives, or a combination of herbs. Some toss in a bit of finely chopped shallot or white onion, too. Whatever you choose, mix everything together.

You may notice, by the way, that I didn’t add salt to the tartar sauce — an unusual omission for most any recipe. But I find the capers and pickles bring enough from the brine, especially as the sauce sits.

Test your potatoes. They should be tender enough so that the prongs of a fork slip easily into the flesh of a larger one. If they need another minute, let them keep cooking — but they’ll be very close to done, so don’t go far. Once the potatoes are ready, drain them into a colander.

As the potatoes cool a bit, prep your fish. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place a ½-pound filet of cod into a small baking dish (I own a 9-inch) or onto a quarter sheet pan. Both these pieces of cookware are generally useful, but if you cook for yourself (or even two people) with any regularity, I can’t recommend them enough. Drizzle the cod in a bit of olive oil, sprinkle it with kosher salt, and squeeze about a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice over top. (That should require half of a juicy lemon, though you don’t have to measure exactly here.)

Set the fish aside for a couple of minutes while you return to your potatoes. Using another quarter sheet pan or a large plate, arrange the potatoes in an even layer across the surface, and smash each one down with the bottom of a measuring cup or drinking glass. You want to apply pressure evenly and gently so you end up with flat-sided spheres that are mostly intact. But don’t worry if some pieces break off; those will get extra-crispy.

Put the fish in the oven for 15 minutes.

While it’s cooking, coat the bottom of a medium cast-iron skillet with olive oil. Again, you don’t have to measure exactly here, but this is not the moment to be fearful of using too much oil; the idea is to mimic the crunch of french fries. Turn the heat to medium-high and layer in your potatoes evenly. Fry them on one side until they’re sizzling and golden brown, about six minutes, then flip each one over with a spatula. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons Old Bay over the top, and let them crisp up on the other side, another 4 or 5 minutes. (I like adding the seasoning halfway through the total cook time because there’s no chance it will end up burnt and bitter, but it still has a moment to bloom and become extra aromatic in the hot fat.)

Kill the heat on the potatoes and toss them around so that the Old Bay coats each piece more evenly. Take the cod out of the oven. It should be opaque and flake easily when you press down on the top. Serve the cod with a pile of potatoes and the tartar sauce, plus an extra lemon wedge for squeezing on top.

I might not be able to deliver the sandy feet, salty hair, and very particular type of hunger that comes after a day at the ocean — but this dinner will hit no matter where you are.

Emma Wartzman is the kitchen and dining writer at New York Magazine’s the Strategist.
Additional photo illustration credits: plate photo by Emma Wartzman