Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pan-Seared Cod Creamy Fennel Ragoût with Black Bean, Jícama, and Grilled Corn Salad Paired with 2008 Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Chardonnay

Cod in a Fennel Sauce with Jicama Salad Paired with 2008 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay

In the very early days of this blog I posted a wine pairing featuring Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay - Butternut Squash and Chorizo Empanadas with Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay.  The pairing was spectacular, but I did not give the Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay my full endorsement when I wrote that the wine was wonderful but overpriced.  I decided to give it another chance, forked over another $40, and started the meal with an open mind.

2008 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay-1

While suffering through the heat wave that has its grip on the East Coast of the U.S., actually most of the U.S., Chef Sue and I began thinking of dinner and our desire for something light and fresh.  We quickly settled on one of our favorites as the centerpiece – cod.  Through some convoluted logic trail that I am unable to explain, fennel came to be named as a key ingredient as well.  Chef Sue quickly set about to find ideas.  Moments later she came across a recipe for pan-seared cod and creamy fennel ragoût at Epicurious.com.  Normally, this is just the starting point, but Chef Sue was satisfied with the recipe, and there you have it.

Cod in a Fennel Sauce

As a composition, the pan-seared cod and creamy fennel ragoût was subtle, buttery, creamy, flakey goodness.  The fennel was sweet and delicate and added just the slightest hint of licorice.  If you are not a licorice fan, no worries – you have to concentrate hard to pick up the flavor.  Fresh Florence fennel is quite sweet and subtle, and has little relationship to the much stronger flavor of fennel seeds.

Jicama Salad

Along with the pan-seared cod and creamy fennel ragoût, Chef Sue prepared a black bean, jícama, and grilled corn salad (this recipe also came from Epicurious.com).  This was a wonderful addition to the meal.  Unlike the internally complimentary flavors of the pan-seared cod, the salad was an exercise in well balanced contrast.  The black bean, jícama, and grilled corn salad was fresh, bright, and a wonderful textural contrast to the cod.

Orange Zest

Now we come full circle to the 2008 Cakebread Cellars Napa Valley Chardonnay.  First, here are the tasting notes from the winemaker:

“Our 2008 Napa Valley Chardonnay seduces right off the bat with brilliantly fresh, complex aromas of lemon-lime, scented pear, ripe yellow apple, honeydew melon and mineral. On the sleek, vibrant palate, rich, concentrated, ripe apple and pear flavors dominate, with refreshing citrus and mineral tones emerging in the wine’s wonderfully long, crisp, finish. Deliciously fresh and delectable now, this youthful Chardonnay will blossom and gain further richness and complexity with another 6-8 months in the bottle and will drink beautifully for 3 to 5 years.”

2008 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay-2

The only thing I would add is that I tasted subtle notes of vanilla, and was pleased with the acidity making this a wonderful wine for food pairing.  I was hoping to recant my prior assessment of this wine and suggest it was a good value.  While a wonderful wine, I still believe it is a bit pricey at $40.  Having said this, the pairing was exceptional.  The intense and bright fruit flavors are perfect compliments to the fresh flavors of the black bean, jícama, and grilled corn salad.  And like the salad, the Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay was a very pleasing contrast to the creamy, subtle flavors of the pan-seared cod.  This is a pairing well worth your time, effort, and $40 for the Chardonnay.

Cod in a Fennel Sauce with Jicama Salad Paired with 2008 Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay-4

We were fortunate to share this wonderful meal with our neighbors Aaron and Lena.  We topped the night with a made from scratch banana cream pie while keeping one eye on Cadel Evans capturing the Yellow Jersey in the final time-trial of the Tour de France – leading to the first ever Tour de France win for an Australian – good on ya mate.  The banana cream pie was spectacular, but deserves our full attention in another post.  We will return to this piece of heaven soon.


Pan-Seared Cod with Creamy Fennel Ragoût

Sliced Fennel


  • 4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/4-inch-wide strips
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 fennel bulbs (sometimes called anise; 2 pounds), stalks discarded and bulbs cut lengthwise into 1-inch wedges
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth (14 fluid ounces)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup chopped drained sun-dried tomatoes (packed in oil)
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 4 (7-ounce) pieces cod, scrod, or halibut fillet (about 1 inch thick)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • Garnish: fennel fronds



  1. Cook bacon in a 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly crisp, 6 to 8 minutes.
  2. Transfer bacon with a slotted spoon to a bowl.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon oil to fat in skillet, then cook fennel with salt and pepper over moderate heat, turning occasionally, until lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
  4. Add broth, cream, tomatoes, and garlic to fennel and cook, partially covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until fennel is tender and cream is slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.
  5. While fennel cooks, heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking.
  6. Season fillets with salt and pepper, then sauté 4 minutes. Turn over and sauté until just cooked through, about 3 minutes more.
  7. Stir mustard and bacon into fennel ragout and season with salt and pepper. Serve cod over fennel ragout.

Black Bean, Jícama, and Grilled Corn Salad


  • 2 large ears of corn, husked
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed, drained
  • 1 cup 1/3-inch dice peeled jicama
  • 1/2 cup 1/3-inch dice peeled carrots
  • 1/3 cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/4 cup (packed) chopped fresh basil
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons grated lime peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin


  1. Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat).
  2. Brush corn with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Grill corn until tender and brown in spots, turning occasionally, about 10 minutes.
  3. Cool slightly. Cut off corn kernels; place in large bowl.
  4. Add black beans, jicama, carrots, green onions, cilantro, and basil.
  5. Whisk lime juice, orange juice, lime peel, cumin, and remaining 4 tablespoons oil in small bowl.
  6. Mix dressing into bean salad. Season generously with salt and pepper.

In vino veritas, buen provecho.



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