Black cod, a flavorful, too-often-forgotten fish

Posted: Thursday, May 01, 2003

Last year, I visited Seville, Spain. There, amongst the Moorish architecture, flamenco and tapas, I learned to appreciate black cod.

Ben Bohen is a local chef and food writer.

One evening I made my way to a tapas bar in the heart of the 1,000-year-old city and asked the waiter to bring me some of the bar's specialties, whatever they may be. The first tapa to arrive was a small piece of seared cazon (a type of shark) served with a red bell pepper sauce and topped with slivers of fried garlic and a drizzle of olive oil. The fish itself was moist, flaky and rich. It was perfectly complemented by the smoky sweet red peppers, the heat of the garlic and the fruity mellowness of the olive oil.

The dish was so memorable that upon my return to Alaska I was determined to recreate it.

Since cazon is not readily available here in Juneau, I considered the available substitutes and settled on black cod. I had never really been impressed with the mild flavor and the almost oily fattiness of this fish before, but it turned out to work perfectly in this setting.

The almost subdued flavor of black cod calls for sauces and sides that are potent without being overpowering. The fish's high fat content allows it to partner well with ingredients that are lean and bright. Mustard, tomatoes, lemon juice, parsley and white wine are just some of the possibilities.

Because black cod is so rich, it is also ideal for hot smoking. If you grew up on the East Coast, you may recall enjoying smoked sablefish, which is a common name for black cod (it is also sometimes sold as butterfish). Try smoked black cod on toast with cream cheese and I am certain you will be convinced that it is worthy competition for salmon in this department.

Two other good reasons to consider black cod are its lengthy season (March 1 through Nov. 15), which means it is available fresh for the majority of the year, and its relatively low cost.

I can understand why black cod does not always make the cut here in Juneau - it simply cannot offer the meaty satisfaction of wild salmon in season, or the versatility of halibut - but it deserves more attention than it gets from home cooks and restaurant chefs. Does anyone need to attend another potluck dinner featuring three different types of smoked salmon dip? And does every restaurant in town have to feature halibut burritos? A person shouldn't have to go all the way to Spain to try something different.

Black cod with roasted red pepper pesto and garlic oil

Makes 4 Appetizer Portions

4 roasted red bell peppers, peels and seeds removed

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

4 pieces black cod fillet (approximately 4 oz. per piece)

salt and pepper to taste

1. In a food processor or blender, puree the roasted red peppers with 1/2 cup of the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste until very smooth. If you prefer a more complex sauce, you can experiment with adding other ingredients to the pesto such as parsley and lemon juice.

2. In a sauté pan large enough to hold all of the pieces of fish, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking add the sliced garlic to the pan. As soon as the garlic has turned a golden (not dark) brown, remove it from the pan using a slotted spoon.

3. Meanwhile, generously season the fish fillets on both sides with salt and pepper. As soon as you remove the garlic from the pan, add the fish. Cook the fish until lightly browned on both sides and just cooked through, approximately 2-3 minutes per side.

4. Place the fish fillets on plates and top each piece with some of the pesto, the browned garlic slices and a drizzle of the olive oil from the pan. Serve immediately.

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