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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.

Enjoy!

18 Comments
  1. Joe #

    Well, from the photos, it’s clear that you are truly getting everything you can out of that fish. The photos look damned good. I remember when I told my dad once that I was using squid to catch cod (actually black cod or sablefish, so not really at all like a typical cod) he expressed horror at the notion of using delicious calamari to catch a bland, ugly fish like a cod. Still, just being able to go catch your own fish every day is a pretty wonderful thing. Keep up the good work. And, by the way, several of us over here are very glad to see that you are putting your Basque and Spanish culinary skills to work on that fish…

    November 10, 2011
    • Phil Cooper #

      I think you have opened a can of worms Joe! I will be truly disappointed if I don’t see a colorful epistle from Winston espousing the virtues of Black Cod……surely one of the most sumptuously delicious fish species out there and a million miles from good’ole, wholesome cod. Those things are more-or-less fish-shaped blocks of butter wrapped in scales with a few fins attached! I had the good fortune to sample some at Nobu in Las Vegas last year and it was verging on orgasmic. Back to (regular) cod though: 1) as a Brit, I have to request that Winston add a 6th recipe to the list: fish and chips…….maybe ubiquitous, but perfectly cooked fish in batter is hard to beat, 2) cod has played a strategic role in history. Check out: “Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World” (http://www.amazon.com/Cod-Biography-Fish-Changed-World/dp/0140275010/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1320902265&sr=1-1). If this floats your boat, you can also read “Salt” by the same author. Winston would approve!

      November 10, 2011
    • Joe, I need to give credit to your dear wife Denisse (Denisse’s mother, actually) for teaching me the green sauce recipe and the chili oil recipe. I love the simplicity of them, and how the two recipes tease out two totally different flavors from garlic.

      Phil, Joe has had my broiled black cod marinated in miso, which is similar, if not identical dish to the one at Nobu which I’ve also had. I think Joe’s father probably didn’t know that black cod is very different from regular cod. Black cod kicks butt. Too bad when Joe caught those things by the ton, he didn’t eat any of it.

      As for fish & chips, I feel that often, the fish is not the main treat; it is a carrier for the crunchy batter and tarter sauce. I never tried to make it. Maybe I’ll experiment and see what I can come up with.

      November 10, 2011
  2. Wow, you can publish an Arctic Dream Cookbook. These recipes look great, but now I feel guilty paying $10.99 a pound. Even though my home is on Cape Cod, we don’t have it as easy as you. It’s much easier catching bluefish when they’re running and us Cape Codders feel the way about bluefish that the Norwegians do about cod. Thanks for reminding me that cod has worms. It’s really disgusting and I had forgotten that.

    Anyway, great post. I’d like to click “Like”, but WordPress doesn’t let me do that.

    November 10, 2011
    • Thanks Bob! I do plan to compile recipes. Making good food with very limit ingredients is a challenge but some people might benefit. I didn’t know that bluefish is so common! I had very good bluefish at East Coast Grill in Inmon Square.
      You can always “Like” the post on Facebook! The bottom “Like” button is for other bloggers on WordPress.

      November 10, 2011
  3. Hi Winston,

    I love following your blog. Here is a book a read this month. It is a small book about the history of cod fishing and it includes a lot of recipes old and more recent. It is also a great eye opener about the abuse of the fishing industry. I don’t know if amazon deliver all the way to your Island but here is the link anyway. 🙂

    Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World
    Mark Kurlansky

    http://www.amazon.com/Cod-Biography-Fish-Changed-World/dp/0140275010/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1320909104&sr=1-1

    Bye,
    Stef

    November 10, 2011
    • Thanks Stephan! I did buy the Kindle version of the Cod book. I haven’t read it yet, but I will before this year is over.

      November 10, 2011
  4. Richard P #

    What! No cod sushi? Seriously, if you wish to catch less cod and more halibut (or another kind of fish), you could try changing your location and fishing technique. For example, cod are a fish that school and typically eat suspended at a depth where their preferred temperature exists. Comparatively, halibut habitate and feed off the bottom in deeper water. If you get your lures down deeper, bouncing off/near the bottom, you should shift the balance of your catch and consumption away from cod. Water temperature also makes a difference with individual fish species preferring different temperatures. Of course, you would need a temperature probe with a few hundred feet of wire for this level of sophistication. Good fishing!

    November 10, 2011
    • I’m going to try to catch halibut this Saturday. People here often catch huge halibut but they do it from boats by “long-lining”: drop a series of hooks baited with chopped herring to the bottom and attach the two ends of the line to buoys.
      Near shore, cod is mostly at the bottom. Above the bottom I’ve caught pollock, but somehow I haven’t been able to get that much. It’s the 10%, as opposed to the 90% which is cod.
      Yes, I really have to shift the balance of my catch. Cod is getting very old.

      November 10, 2011
      • Richard P #

        Makes sense … the cod near shore are likely at the bottom because that’s where their preferred water temperature is. In deeper water, they would be suspended; again, where their preferred water temperature is. BIG halibut are usually on bottom in 200-300 feet of water. Off the B.C. coast, we used a 10 ounce barrel weight surrounded by three treble hooks draped with cut squid – any fresh bait will do. Bouncing the barrel weight off the bottom attracts the attention of the halibut and they will be bigger down deeper. Look forward to seeing a picture of your halibut catch!

        November 11, 2011
  5. Please Sir, I need dried cod heads for animal feeds, in bales /bags unsorted. Can it be possible? waiting for urgent reply.
    Peter Bassey.
    Director

    November 11, 2011
  6. As matter of fact,cod fish has been a delicacy that we can’t do without in my own region via Abia state, eastern part of Nigeria. infact some preffere eating the dried heads and others use it for animal feeds So I’m the most happiest person on earth to locate this site that has been no found area for years. I’m happy still looking forward for your urgent reply
    Keep it up.
    Peter Bassey.

    November 11, 2011
    • Hi Peter,
      I’m not in the business of selling dried cod. I dry them for the consumption of my own family. If you wish, you can search and contact various fish merchants in Norway. They throw all the heads away here.
      Winston.

      November 12, 2011
  7. Codfather #

    Winston, leave the poor Cod alone, the Codfather will be coming after you. My favorite fish for catching and eating, it’s a New England thing (though I do like monkfish a lot better which we also occassionally catch offshore) and a tribute to by good buddy Arne Brue Lie who recently past but taught me how to poach cod and enjoy it with pea soup and aquavit.

    So the best part of the cod …If you catch any cod over 25lbs or so, cut the cod cheeks out of the head and saute them with a little salt and pepper. Better than the best scallops you ever had.

    Post some more Cod pictures.

    November 11, 2011
    • Dear Codfather,
      Please forgive me for I have sinned. My sin is blasphemy. I accept cod as my savior, and will celebrate his eternal glory.
      Your servant,
      Winston.

      November 12, 2011
    • When I do catch a 25lb cod, his codship permitting, I’ll surely announce it on this blog! Some of the fisherman here eat tongues from big cod. A delicacy they say.

      November 12, 2011
  8. Nice pictures, my cod catching skills need to definteily improve so it looks like I can learn a lot from you 🙂

    March 5, 2014

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