Cod:  British Gold

by Mark R. Vogel

            John Cabot (c. 1450 – 1498?) was an explorer, probably hailing from Genoa like his contemporary, Christopher Columbus.  Spurred by Columbus’ discoveries and rivalry with other European powers, King Henry VII enlisted Cabot to search for unknown lands across the Atlantic for England.  Cabot only made two voyages, one successful and one fateful.  In 1497 he landed somewhere on the Canadian coast which laid the basis for the eventual British claims to Canada.  The Atlantic cod, so abundant in Cabot’s time, was a primary source of sustenance for his expedition.  Allegedly his men could catch all they needed by simply tossing buckets overboard.  One year later he embarked on a second expedition and was never seen again.  If Cabot’s “fish story” is valid, then at least we know he didn’t succumb to starvation. 

            Although commercially harvested by the Vikings as far back as the 9th century, cod provided significant financial revenue for England’s imperialism.  In fact, William Pitt the Elder, prime minister of England in the 1750’s and 1760’s, referred to the cod as “British Gold.”  Ironically, it was this same “gold” that the colonists relied upon to finance their independence from England.  Sadly, this fish that once could be caught by the bucketful has been severely depleted by over harvesting.

            There are three species of cod, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Greenland.  Highly propagative, they grow to as large as 100 lbs.  It varies in color from grey to brown, has pronounced fins, a lighter underbelly, and an unmistakable barbel on its lower jaw.  It is sold whole and filleted.  It freezes well so frozen fillets are not a bad choice if fresh is not available.  It has a mild, white flesh that is firm yet still flaky, low in fat, and is very good eating.  Cod was the original fish of choice for traditional British fish and chips.  Cod is amenable to a wide variety of cooking techniques with the possible exception of grilling due to its flakiness.  It is best poached, baked, and pan or deep fried. 

            Cod can be preserved by salting, drying or smoking.  Salt cod is preserved by salting and drying and is a very popular and time-honored item throughout the Mediterranean region.  Baccala is the Italian term for salt cod.  Brandade is a classic dish from the Provence and Languedoc regions of France.  It is a puree of salt cod, olive oil, and milk and/or cream.  Variations include the use of potatoes, garlic, or truffles.  It is served with croutes, i.e., pieces of toasted bread. 

            Scrod is young cod weighing only a pound or two.  But the term scrod is loosely applied to various members of the cod family and related fish.  Thus, the “scrod” in your supermarket could be cod, haddock, pollack, cusk, etc.  You can use cod or scrod for the recipes below but try to find thicker pieces. 

 

BAKED COD WITH JULIENNED VEGETABLES

 

2 carrots, julienned

2 leeks, white parts only, julienned

1 large potato, julienned

1 small zucchini, julienned

Half teaspoon mustard seeds

Half teaspoon fennel seeds

Half teaspoon coriander seeds

Half teaspoon OldBay seasoning

Half teaspoon McCormick lemon-pepper seasoning

Salt and pepper to taste

1 lb cod, at least an inch thick

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil plus extra as needed

Juice from half a lemon plus extra as needed

 

 

            Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Julienning the vegetables not only makes for an attractive presentation; their size allows them to be finished cooking simultaneously with the fish.  Granted, julienning veggies is a painstaking task.  If you prefer, simply cut the vegetables into thin slices.   Combine all the vegetables in a bowl.  Grind the mustard, fennel and coriander in a spice grinder and then mix with the OldBay, lemon-pepper seasoning, salt and pepper.  Place the fish in an oven proof baking dish with a lid.  Drizzle half of the oil and lemon juice over the fish and half over the vegetables.  Likewise, sprinkle half the spice mixture over the fish and half over the vegetables.  Toss the vegetables to blend the seasoning and place them on top of the fish.  Drizzle a little extra oil and lemon juice over everything if need be.  Bake, covered, until the fish reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees.  Cooking time can vary based on your exact oven temperature, the size of the fish, the vessel it’s being cooked in, etc.  Use a thermometer to avoid the guesswork and prevent overcooking the fish. 

 

POACHED COD & POTATOES IN TOMATO BROTH

 

2 (14.5 oz) cans of chicken broth

2 (8 oz.) cans Hunts tomato sauce

1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste

5 cloves garlic, chopped

2 bay leaves

Half teaspoon died thyme

Half teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper to taste

1 ½ lbs potatoes, cut into chunks

1 ½ lbs cod, at least an inch thick, cut into 3-4 inch pieces

Fresh basil, chopped, to taste

Fresh parsley, chopped, to taste

 

            Combine the broth, tomato sauce, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, salt and pepper in a large 12-14 inch pot or skillet with a lid.  Bring to a boil and whisk to blend the ingredients.  Add the potatoes, cover, return to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until the potatoes are almost done.  Uncover during part of the cooking to reduce and intensify the liquid.  Add the fish, cover, and adjust the heat to a very gentle simmer.  The poaching liquid should be between 160-185 degrees.  Cook until the fish reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees.  Add the fresh basil and parsley when finished and serve. 

 

 

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