5 Best Cod Recipes
I’m sick of cod. Nine out of ten fish I catch is cod. I’ve paid modest amounts for monkfish, halibut, ling-cod, rock fish, and crab, but I have not, and will never pay for cod, because I can pretty much guarantee that on any given day, with enough time, I can catch enough cod on my own.
Cod is really chicken of the sea, not tuna. Like chicken, its flavor is very mild. For example, when you smoke a strong flavored fish like salmon, the smoke enhances the flavor of the meat. With cod, you’d taste nothing but smoke. Also, the meat is easy to overcook and flaky. So, it’s actually not easy to make a truly delicious meal out of cod.
For a country whose cod export is prized, Norwegians are painfully bad at cooking it. The most common preparation is poaching, and then slathering it with bacon fat and bacon bits. It’s awful. And then there is the famed lutefisk, which is more strongly associated with Norway than petroleum.
Many people on the island detest cod. At first I heard they say the cod around the shores are full of worms. That’s just not true. Of all the cod I caught from shore, only one had a few worms. Well, cod is a pretty homely fish: it has a big head and a big belly. (An Icelandic lady who visited us last weekend told us that in Iceland, “cod-head” is a common insult.) Kristin made salt-cod croquettes at school and the kids loved it, but one said, “I just need to forget that this is made from cod.”
When I get home with freshly caught cod, they had already been gutted. I filet and debone them. Then, I rub a handful of sea salt into the filets and let it sit for one to two days. That’s right. Unless I have to, I don’t eat cod on the same day it’s caught. There’re two reasons. One, after resting for a day, the flesh becomes less flaky. Two, fresh cod has very high water content, which contributes to the blandness. One or two days of mild salting extracts some of the water out, making the meat firmer and tastier. In effect, I’m making a very mild salt cod. Best cut of the cod is what I call the “loin”: the thick meat above the spine. In the picture on the right, it’s the bottom right piece. When I made cod for guests, I always use the loin.
The trick to making cod is to infuse it with a mild but distinctive flavor, and throughout the process manipulate the fish as little as possible so it doesn’t fall apart. Here’re my favorite fresh cod recipes, using the lightly salted cod filets described above. They don’t have many ingredients and they’re relatively quick to make.
Basque: Cod in Green Sauce (Salsa Verde)
This sublime dish only needs three other ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, garlic chunks, and parsley. Technique is everything. You heat up a cast iron frying pan (traditionally a terra-cotta pan is used) on low heat, and put in a lot of olive oil, garlic chunks and the cod loin with skin on, and skin side down. Once you see liquid start oozing from the fish, you start shaking the pan. You can rotate it around the center of the pan, or push and pull it. Either way, use quick and short motions. The juice from the fish and garlic will emulsify with the olive oil, making a thick sauce. Having skin on the fish is important because the skin contains gelatinous substance that aids emulsification. After about 15 minutes, you have a beautiful thick sauce. Add finely chopped parsley and shake for a few more minutes, you’re done. With a sour arm, eat immediately with crusty baguette to soak up the sauce.
Spanish: Baked Cod with Chili Oil
Bake the cod filet in a pan with nothing else. When it’s almost done, heat up olive oil on high heat, and put it garlic chunks until the garlic chunks turn yellow. Then, put it chili pepper flakes for about a minute, and drizzle the hot chili oil on the baked fish.
Chinese: Steamed Cod
This recipe bares a lot of similarities with the previous recipe. You steam the fish rather than baking it. While it’s steaming, you chopped up ginger and scallion. When the fish is fully cooked, take it out and put it in a baking pan. Arrange the chopped ginger and scallion on top of the fish and drizzle with a little soy sauce. Then, you heat up oil (Chinese peanut oil works best but regular vegetable oil is fine) until it’s smoking, and drizzle the hot oil on top of the ginger and scallion. The oil extracts the flavor from the ginger and scallion and infuse the fish with it.
Italian: Cod Stew
If you caught cod and filet it yourself, make sure to save the head, spine and other trimming and make a stock with it. In a casserole, sweat onion and garlic. Then, put in the fish stock, canned chopped tomato, small potatoes halved, one bay leaf, salt, and gently boil it for about an hour. Finally, put in the fish filet and boil very gently until cooked.
Japanese: Cod with Miso
For this recipe, which I found on epicurious, you need a couple of special ingredients: miso soup mix, which you can find in most gourmet grocery stores, and shiitaki mushroom. Amazingly, I found miso soup mix in an ethnic grocery store in Mo-i-Rana, and I brought dried shiitaki mushroom with me from the US. You slice the shiitaki mushroom thinly, and bake slices with the cod loin until the fish is done. Then, put the fish in individual bowls with the baked shiitaki mushroom slices and chopped scallion on top. Meanwhile, you make the miso soup by mixing the soup base with water, but at three times the suggested concentration. When it’s boiling, pour it slowly over the mushroom and scallion in each bowl.