Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) occupy a similar range to their cousins in the cod family. They usually prefer deeper water than cod and with smaller, more delicate mouths, are not the voracious eaters that large cod can be. Besides being smaller than cod, haddock are darker in color, with a black lateral line and a distinctive black mark behind its head. This is the so-called “devil’s mark” or conversely, “Saint Peter’s mark” that makes haddock easy to spot among other cod-like fish.
Haddock shares a similar history with cod, being caught off the British Isles, Scandinavia, Iceland and later, North America. It appears in many of the early cookbooks, in recipes that either call for cod or haddock specifically. As fish and chips became one of the UK’s national dishes in the 19th century, the Scots preferred haddock over English cod. In New England, where cod was king for centuries, haddock played second fiddle, at least in the market. For many fishing families cod is what you sold, haddock is what you brought home to eat. Unlike cod, haddock does not salt well, and so before refrigeration it was eaten fresh locally. However haddock is ideal for smoking, as the Scottish fishermen from Findon learned and created the legendary finnan haddie. This golden delicacy was brought to the New World, where it became a traditional meal of Nova Scotia and coastal New England.
When flash-freezing was being perfected in the 1920’s, it was haddock that first graced the new refrigerated section of modern supermarkets. By the 1950’s Clarence Birdseye’s inventions brought haddock fish sticks (fish fingers) to the masses. But haddock’s tastiness was also its downfall; after decades of intensive fishing, often by large factory ships, haddock stocks were depleted. The good news is that haddock is now rebounding, with sustainable populations along its range, especially off the New England coast.
Haddock’s mild, white and flaky meat is delicious, and is similar, but not identical to cod in flavor and texture. It is not a grilling fish, unless you wrap it in foil, haddock is best baked, broiled, smoked or even in a creamy fish chowder.
When buying haddock the fillets should be fresh and clean-looking, not slimy or dried out. The fillets are white like cod fillets, but not as white and there may be some silver skin left on one side. Sizes range from small “snapper” haddock to scrod, to large haddock, which is anything over 2.5 pounds.
Haddock is sustainably harvested through much of its range and also freezes well, allowing for high quality fillets to be widely available. All US caught haddock meets MSC certification, but consumers will see various countries of origin: Iceland and Norway seem to be especially prevalent in US supermarkets.
Haddock is probably the mildest of the cod-like fishes, so take that into consideration when replacing haddock with cod, hake or pollock. Cod is generally whiter with larger flakes than haddock, while pollock, especially Atlantic pollock, is darker and stronger flavored.
To Broil Haddocks (1773)
Scale your haddocks, gut and wash them clean do not rip open the belly but take the guts out with the gills, dry them in a clean cloth very well; if there be any roe, or liver take it out but put it in again; flour them well and have a clear good fire. Let your gridiron be hot and clean lay them on turn them quick two or three times for fear of sticking then let one side be enough and turn the other side when that is done lay them in your dish and have plain butter in a cup They eat finely salted a day or two before they are dressed and hung up to dry or boiled with egg sauce.