Species Spotlight: Codfish

To break the ice here at the newly created buyingseafood.com we will look at cod, a traditional favorite better known to some of us as codfish. There has been some press about the collapse of the Atlantic cod industry, and there is certainly disagreements between fishermen and scientists as to what is really going on out on the banks. What I find in my local fish markets is cod is always there, freshly caught. However that is probably a local phenomenon and I know much of what I see for cod in supermarkets is imported. In all instances, if the origin of the fish is not listed, ask the dealer.

Atlantic Cod (Gadus morhua), Greenland Cod, (Gadus ogac) and Pacific Cod (Gadus macrocephalus) are robust, meaty fish that inhabit cold waters near the bottom and are voracious eaters of anything that can fit in their large mouths. The three “true” cods as well as the other cod-like fish in the genus Gadus all share similar characteristics, but the Atlantic Cod is historically the largest, easily recognized by its large head, three dorsal fins and prominent lateral line. At the dock, cod is graded by size with scrod being the smallest marketable size, then market cod, large cod, and whale cod.

Codfish has been a valuable trade item since the early Middle Ages. This large, easy to catch fish is prized for its mild, flaky white flesh. The body of the fish lends itself to salting, making a foodstuff that is virtually imperishable, but is equally delicious served fresh. Cod, like a swimming swine is also amazingly versatile, nearly every part can be consumed. The head, including the meaty cheeks, the tongues, the swim bladder known as a sound, the liver, the roe, even the skin and bones have been traditionally consumed in some way.

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Buying Cod

Like all fresh fish, cod should not smell “fishy” when choosing a whole fish or fillets. cod should also not look dried out or off-colored. If you are lucky enough to get it fresh caught codfish, many old New Englanders will tell you it tastes better a day later. If buying frozen cod fillets choose packages with bigger pieces with no signs of freezer-burn. The smaller portions can dry out faster and also have a stronger or “off” taste.

Besides the Atlantic, Pacific, and Greenland Cod, there are several cod-like fish, like haddock, hake, and pollock, that can as substitutes. These fish are similar but have slightly different textures or a stronger taste. If fresh or frozen haddock is more available than cod, it makes an excellent alternative. I actually prefer haddock over cod.

Historic Recipe

Cod’s Head and Rice ( 1874 )

Take half a cod’s head and shoulders, and put in a saucepan with one quart of water to boil for fifteen minutes; fry, in four ounces of butter, one onion and two tomatoes, sliced, some chopped parsley, pepper, salt, and two cloves; when nicely fried, put it all into the saucepan, with the fish, add half a pound of rice, and boil until it is all well cooked; let it stand away from the fire for ten minutes, and serve up.

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