Species Spotlight On Haddock

Haddock (Melanogrammus aeglefinus) occupy a similar range to their cousins in the cod family but does not have a Pacific species like cod and pollock. 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, they 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 them easy to spot among other cod-like fish.

Haddock shares a similar history with cod, being caught off the British Isles, Scandinavia, Iceland and North America. In New England, where cod was king for centuries, it 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 an inferior salted or dried fish product. However, the fish 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. The growth of the fresh-fish market increased haddock’s popularity by then end of the 19th century.

Gortons frozen haddock

Flash-freezing techniques were being perfected in the 1920’s, and it was haddock that first graced the modern supermarkets. Clarence Birdseye’s inventions brought haddock fish sticks (fish fingers) to the masses by the 1950’s. But its mild taste was also its downfall; after decades of intensive fishing, including large foreign factory ships, stocks were depleted.

How Haddock are Caught

Haddock are separated into two stocks: George’s Bank and Gulf of Maine. The fish are mostly caught by trawl net, gillnet, or longline. The fish mostly live on areas of mud, sand and gravel. These are areas where fishing gear has minimal impact. Several areas of “hard bottom” where they were once harvested with cod and other species have been closed off. There is also a very large recreational fishery for haddock, which makes up a significant portion of the Gulf of Maine catch.

Fresh Haddock

Haddock stocks have rebounded, with sustainable populations along its range, especially off the New England coast. The 2022 stock assessments by NOAA states George’s Bank is not overfished but restrictions have been put on catches from the Gulf of Maine. The stock is not overfished, but the regulators claim that overfishing was occurring. This was a very controversial decision for New England fishermen, who rely on this seemingly plentiful stock.

Buying Haddock

iceland catch frozen haddock

US caught haddock is sustainably harvested and plentiful even in the face of the recent restrictions. However, consumers will see a lot of imported fish from Canada, Iceland and Norway in US supermarkets. When buying, 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 aka “snapper” to scrod, to large, which is anything over 2.5 pounds. Haddock also freezes well, allowing for high quality fillets to be widely available.

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, it is best baked, broiled, smoked or even in a creamy fish chowder.

Haddock  is probably the mildest of the cod-like fishes, so take that into consideration when replacing with cod, hake or pollock. Cod is generally whiter with larger flakes when cooked, while pollock, especially Atlantic pollock, is darker and stronger flavored.

Historic Recipe: 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.

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