As part of National Seafood Month, I decided to try a local, but new fish to me. I grabbed 2 pounds of local cusk from Fisherman’s Wharf Gloucester. I’ve never cooked cusk and even though I remember them from when I was a kid on the wharves, I really don’t know much about them. If I ever tried cusk, I don’t remember, but I figured with a price of $5 per pound, it was worth a shot.
Cusk (Brosme brosme), also known as tusk, torsk, and brosme, among other local names, is a relative of the cod/ling type fishes. It is also known as ocean cusk to differentiate it from its freshwater cousin the burbot (Lota lota), which is also known as cusk in some regions. These deep water fish have a cod-like head, but an eel- like body, like ling. Unlike cod, haddock, pollock and hake, cusk do not school and are not caught in great numbers.
Although you may occasionally see cusk for sale, it is not a targeted commercial species. Cusk is usually bycatch for New England and Eastern Canadian fishermen but is also a popular recreational fish. Although it is considered a good tasting, firm white fish, with more oil content than cod, it was never heavily targeted because nobody really knows how many cusk are out there.
Cusk were never caught in great numbers, even in the days of dory trawling. They mature slowly and some of the grounds where they are caught – much like the protected Atlantic wolf fish – are closed to commercial fishing. Since 2007, NOAA has listed cusk as a candidate for the endangered species list as they monitor landings. Even after a decade of study, we know embarrassingly little about cusk.
Chances are you will not encounter cusk at your local market. Fishermen get so little for cusk – $0.60-0.70 per pound or less – it’s not worth bringing them in unless they are big. However, when you do see cusk for sale, you have the opportunity to try a very affordable and versatile local fish.
Cusk has a long history as a chowder fish in New England, but after a little research I was surprised to find there is more to this humble fish. In Europe, cusk (tusk/brosme) is more appreciated, with recipes beyond hearty fishermen’s stews. Even though cusk fillets look similar to cod, it is apparently firm enough to put on the grill.
Cusk From Fisherman’s Wharf Gloucester
When I bought my cusk at the start of the month, I got two individually vacuum sealed pounds of skinless fillets. For my first attempt at cooking cusk I defrosted one pound overnight in the fridge. The off-white color of cusk resembles cod to a certain degree, but were oddly shaped due to their eel-like body. The smaller piece was thick and could probably pass for a cod loin. The larger piece was long and skinny, it is folded over in the image.
Studies have shown that cusk is one of the many fish mislabeled in Europe as cod. Fish fraud is rampant worldwide and probably goes back to ancient times. Whether it is done intentionally or not, it would not surprise me if local cusk was passed off as cod, especially in a restaurant setting.
Of course, the deception would be gone after the first bite. As I was about to learn, cusk may look similar and cook similar to its cod cousins, but it is a different fish altogether.
Roasted Cusk With Herbed Compound ButterCuisine: SeafoodDifficulty: Easy
If you have no restrictions, feel free to add some garlic, or even roasted garlic to this recipe for a flavor explosion.
1lb Cusk (Substitute with any cod-like fish)
1/2 Stick Butter
Various Fresh Herbs, chopped: Tarragon, Dill, Chives, Parsley,
1.5-2 Lemons: juice, zest, and slices
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
- For the Marinade: Because I am unfamiliar with cusk, I decided to marinate the fish in a lemon vinaigrette: make a 3:1 ratio of olive oil to lemon juice, add a dash of zest, salt and pepper to a small mason style jam jar and shake vigorously. Pour over the fish and let marinate for up to 15 minutes.
- For the Compound Butter: I make a very simple and quick compound butter by softening a half stick of unsalted butter in the microwave. You are not supposed to let it melt completely but it’s not a big deal – most of the herbs end up at the bottom (like mine). I chopped tarragon, dill, chives and parsley as fine as I could and added them to the butter, stirring well and adding fresh ground black pepper before putting in the fridge to harden. I don’t bother with wrapping in parchment…this ain’t Chateaubriand, it’s cusk!
- Pre-heat oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with foil and/or parchment (I used both for easier clean up). Place sliced lemons down and then place marinated fish on lemon.
- Add pieces of compound butter and extra sprigs of fresh dill. Roast for 20-25 minutes or until done.
- What little cooking advice there is for cusk online suggests a longer cooking time than cod, haddock or pollock. This is due to the dense nature of cusk.
- The cusk was fully cooked after about 22 minutes. I served it over creamy herbed mashed potatoes and sautéed bright lights chard.
It was…ok, but could have been better. Cusk may look and taste similar to other cod-like fish, but it is much firmer and does not flake. While it does have a mild flavor and all the herbs and butter were nice, the texture was a bit too firm, chewy even. I also may have marinated it too long.
The closest I can come in comparison is the texture is somewhere between monkfish and a lobster tail. I think I now understand its use in chowder: cusk will give you the big chunks of fish you want in a good chowder. It definitely has a nice flavor and I am glad I tried it.