The Chef: Alex Raij
Her Restaurants El Quinto Pino, Txikito, La Vara, and Saint Julivert Fisherie, all in New York City.
What She’s Known For Regional-Spanish cooking that honors tradition while embracing creativity. Flavor over frippery.
AT THEIR TAPAS bar El Quinto Pino, in Manhattan, chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero—partners in business and life—have redefined for New Yorkers what Spanish food can be. Around the corner at Txikito, they’ve won over legions of diners to the elemental dishes of the Basque Country. And at La Vara, in Brooklyn, they’ve teased out Jewish and Moorish influences in Spanish cooking.
To Ms. Raij, this recipe for hake and peppers poached in olive oil exemplifies the restraint that so appeals to her in Spanish and Basque cuisine. “There aren’t lot of highs and lows,” she said. “You don’t add crunch to every dish or clobber it with vinegar.”
This fish dish, a study in soft textures and subdued flavors, is almost certainly the most elegantly simple and comforting dish you’ll eat all week. The ingredients poach gently, just long enough so that “the peppers become one with the fish and the fish becomes one with the peppers,” said Ms. Raij.
If you can’t find hake, cod, another mild, flaky fish, will work just as well. “You need a thick fillet so it can take on the oil without falling apart,” said Ms. Raij. To finish, a splash of Sherry vinegar—so little you won’t actually taste it. The point is to draw out the brightness of the peppers and the subtle flavor of the fish. As Ms. Raij put it, “It’s about cooking discreetly.”
TOTAL TIME: 40 minutes SERVES: 4
4 large bell peppers
2 cups extra-virgin oliveoil, plus more as needed
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1¼ pounds skinless hake or cod fillets, cut into 4 equal pieces
1 teaspoon Sherry vinegar
1. Over a gas flame or under a broiler set to high heat, char peppers until blackened all over. Transfer peppers to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let steam 10 minutes. Remove plastic wrap. Working over bowl to capture juices, peel away and discard charred skin from peppers. Tear peppers in half, and discard stems and seeds. Further tear peppers into 1½-inch-wide strips and add to bowl with juices.
2. Heat olive oil in a wide pot over low heat. Add a generous pinch of salt and garlic. Add peppers to pot, reserving juices in bowl, and gently simmer until peppers soften and flavor oil, about 15 minutes. Oil should never reach a simmer, but small bubbles should slowly rise to the surface and burst occasionally.
3. Season fish with salt. Once peppers are soft, nestle fillets into pot in a single layer. If necessary add more oil to ensure fillets are just submerged. Poach fish gently in oil until it fully whitens and flakes easily, about 5 minutes. (If necessary, cook fish in batches.)
4. Once fish is cooked, remove pot from heat and season with vinegar, reserved pepper juices and salt to taste.