Oh My Cod!
En route to the Cape, I asked my friend Alex Hay of Wellfleet Shellfish Company (and Mac’s Seafood) whether he had anything unusual on ice: I had only one real meal to cook and some friends were coming over, so I wanted it to be good. “How about a netted cod from Chatham?” was his reply.
Chatham being maybe twenty-five miles south of my place, in Truro, and home of probably the largest remaining active fishing fleets on the Cape, this was an easy “yes, please.” The fish appeared as if by magic, in my absence even, and it was gorgeous. And huge. My oven here being tiny (let’s say a nine-by-thirteen roasting pan is tight), I had to sacrifice the fish’s beauty for expedience.
I removed the head and tail (and gills, which I tossed) and made stock; I cut off a long piece of the narrow end and froze it. What remained was a center-cut piece of fish that probably weighed four pounds, and included the precious collar and belly. Man.
Inspired by a fine monkfish dish I’d had at Ostra in Boston the night before (how nice to see a new splashy seafood restaurant in that town), I oven-braised fennel (not enough), onion, garlic (not enough), potatoes (OK, you get the idea, I wish I’d used more veg), and a few mushrooms for a half-hour or so, along with rosemary and a couple of ladles of my fish stock. This cooked slowly (I set the oven at 300 degrees). Then I added salt, more rosemary, and the fish, and cooked it for maybe another 45 minutes.
At that point the veg were tender as hell, really delicious, and done. The fish remained a little rare; that piece was like four inches thick! I removed it to a plate, covered it with foil, cranked the oven a bit, and roasted it for ten more minutes. While that happened, I reduced the liquid left in the roasting pan on top of the stove.
Served the veggies and broth in the bottom of bowls with generous portions of that intensely sweet, super-delicate cod on top, and everyone seemed pretty happy. Plus I have enough cod left over for fishcakes (like these ones spiked with ginger and cilantro). Nice.
Ironically, Alex cooked for me; his wife, Elsbeth; and Kathleen the following night and made…beautiful filleted cod, his with beans and a variety of vegetables. Cooked off the bone, it was firmer and meatier than mine, which had been not better, or worse, but different. What a lucky, coddy weekend.
If you’re up for a different kind of amazing weekend fish dish, check out my recipe for Braised Fish, Pot-Roast Style (a big hunk of halibut, swordfish, monkfish, or something meaty, seared and then simmered with vegetables, red wine, and stock). It’s hearty, comforting, and perfect for this time of year.
This dish is incredibly meaty, but doesn't contain any actual meat. It’s fish braised like a pot roast, meaning seared, then simmered with vegetables in red wine and stock. To make this well, you need homemade stock; the canned stuff is overpoweringly bad. Beef or chicken stock will amplify the meatiness, but a quick flavorful fish stock also works wonderfully.
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Questions, comments, brilliant suggestions? Just want to share the recipe for your grandma's potato salad, or your mom's meatloaf, or your uncle Drew's three-day 100-percent rye loaf (yes, please)? Don't hesitate to reach out anytime.