East VS West: Battle Cod

In cod we trust–or can we?

Atlantic Cod

Atlantic Cod

On the East Coast and especially Newfoundland, cod is not just a fish. Cod is THE fish. Cod is more than a fish, actually, cod is a deity, the bringer of wealth, the currency of the settlers, the hopes and dreams of the early immigrants.
And when we mismanaged our fishery, and didn’t protect it against others, cod left us for our sins and Newfoundland still waits for the day when cod will come again.
In Newfoundland, When people say “fish”, they mean “cod”, and cod comes in two forms: salt fish and fresh fish. Pretty straightforward, no false cods there.
Not so on the West Coast, where there are plenty of pretenders to the throne; even the Pacific cod goes by several names: true cod, grey cod, Alaska cod.
pacific codThen there are the false prophets that aren’t even in the cod family–black cod (sablefish), lingcod. Pollock can be labeled “Alaskan cod”,  and that’s just the tip of the marketing iceberg.





Let’s look at it scientifically. There are three fish currently classed together as cod, in the Gadus genus:
Gadus morhua, Atlantic cod
Gadus macrocephalus, Pacific cod
Gadus ogac, Greenland cod

The two fish that I’ve noticed most marketed as “cod” here are not in the same family.
Anoplopoma fimbria, Black cod, is actually Sablefish (also nicknamed butterfish). Not quite sure why this is marketed as cod when it’s such a lovely fish that can stand on its own merits. The flesh is smooth, rich, and velvety textured.
Ophiodon elongatus, Lingcod, is of the greenling family.

Once the fish has been filleted, it’s very difficult to tell the difference unless you’ve seen a lot of each species, so you have to place some trust in your fishmonger.
Of the Gadus genus, Atlantic cod has the whitest flesh, with a pearly sheen. It’s firmer than the other cods, which remind me more of haddock. And although all cod has a mild flavour, I find that of Atlantic cod to be more distinct than other whitefish including Pacific cod.
Taste and texture are close, especially when used in preparations like fishcakes or fish and chips, I’ve had the chance now to cook with grey cod a few times and can taste the difference, subtle as it may be.

Based on the taste, and Atlantic cod’s historical significance, and the fact it doesn’t have the identity issues of the poor confused Pacific cousin, I give Atlantic cod the win.

Feeding Birds

IMG_0325Our new, closest neighbours are birds. All kinds of birds. IMG_7030
Out front, sea birds: seagulls, Canada geese, ducks, a lone heron, a bald eagle, and turkey vultures. Out back, the land birds: owls, crows, Stellar’s jays, robins, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, fat little brown ground feeders, quails, and more of which I cannot identify.
And so this year, I decided a bird feeder was in order. Sounds simple, right? I thought so too.
Aside from an ill-fated experiment with a hummingbird feeder, I’ve never had one before. Off I go to Canadian Tire to pick one up, and here’s the first problem: there are lots, and lots of bird feeders. Everything from tables for two, to deluxe condo style towers that can feed a crowd. There’s kinds for nectar, and seed, and suet. Okay, I think, I’ll get the biggest one, we have a lot of birds, and this community table will be nice. But then I see one labelled “woodpeckers” and I get that one too, because they have a different diet, apparently. And then another, little one that I think would be good for those newlyweds looking for an intimate dinner.
Okey dokey, as I stare at the cart, that’s great, I have the feeders, now what to put in them?
At first glance, I only need two things: suet plugs, and bird seed. Suet plugs, no problem. Bird seed–there’s about a gazillion different kinds. What would be on the menu? Sunflower seeds? Dried fruit mix? Nut blend? Premium? Songbird? Winter mix? Peanuts? Peanuts! I have a squirrel hanging around too, have to keep him happy and out of the feeders. Finally settling on a bag that had happy-looking birds on the front, I head home.
Then it hits me: community table, intimate dinners for two, dietary restrictions, special menus, menu theme–feeding birds is just like opening a restaurant.
At least it’s a self-serve.

Ferries & Fishcakes

When we were on the East coast, our Newfoundland families made the trek to visit us on the Marine Atlantic ferry, which runs from Port-aux-Basques to North Sydney. Now that we’re here, once again visiting family takes the ferry from Vancouver to actually, another Sidney (Ha! Just realized that. But there’s a major difference in the two ferry rides.

Taking the ferry in Newfoundland means driving to Port-aux-Basques. There is another ferry that runs from Argentia, closer to St. John’s, but it’s a long ride and an even less convenient schedule than the other, so lots of folks will make the 900KM, 10.5 hour drive to Port-aux-Basques instead.
Most of our family came to visit via Corner Brook, so let’s go with that as our base.
Ferry departs at 11.45, and even with a reservation you have to be there 1 hour ahead of time. So, get up at 7am to leave by 7.30 to arrive at the Marine Atlantic terminal comfortably at 10.30. If boat is on schedule (and that’s a big “IF”), board boat. Find a spot to hunker down for the next 8-12 hours or longer, depending on weather. That advertised 6 hour crossing? Never happens. That’s what the boat can do, not what it does do. Paying a small fortune for a cabin to sleep your time away is an option. Paying a small fortune for a sub-par meal from the cafeteria is a requirement if you’ve forgotten to pack your own lunch.
Let’s be generous and say we arrive in North Sydney on time, 8 hours after leaving, that makes it now 7.45pm. If the weather is good, you might want to make the drive to Halifax; in the winter, better off to get a motel for the night and make the 4 hour drive in the morning. Leaving the hotel at say, 8am, that gets you to our house for lunch. So, from 7am yesterday, to noon today.
Now come visit us in Victoria. You fly into Vancouver, and do some visiting before hopping the ferry,so here’s your West Coast ferry ride:
Drive from Vancouver hotel to ferry for the crossing of your choice. Spend 90 minutes on the boat. Whiz down the Pat Bay highway. 3 hours door-to-door.

But while the ferry rides differ vastly, the warm welcome for family will never change.
The chowder is still at the end of the trip, and as my nephew also mentioned fishcakes, then they too, are on the menu!


Easy Cod Fishcakes

I call these easy because there’s only a few ingredients, and the ratio is not critical for a good result. Don’t have cod? Use haddock or salmon. No onion? No problem. Don’t like savoury? How about dill?

2 cups mashed potato
12 oz cod, cooked
1 small yellow onion, diced and cooked
2 tsp dried savoury
salt and pepper to taste

Mix together and form into cakes.
Coat with flour and fry in butter for crispy edges

Too much butter in the mashed potatoes meant the cakes didn't hold their shape very well once cooked--but it sure didn't affect the taste :)

Too much butter in the mashed potatoes meant the cakes didn’t hold their shape very well once cooked–but it sure didn’t affect the taste :)

Freestyle Chowder Base


Tomorrow, we are welcoming our first visit from family since moving west. Traditionally, whenever family crossed the Strait from Newfoundland to our house in Nova Scotia, we’d have a pot of seafood chowder waiting.
Asking what our company might like for supper, and the response was chowder. And so the tradition continues!
Of course, the chowder won’t be exactly the same–the East coast version was made with, well, East coast fish and shellfish. For this one, I went foraging for West coast seafood and found smoked Coho, Pacific halibut, shrimp, and Dungeness crab.
No need to change up the rest of the recipe though, this is a chowder base that I’ve used for a long time, and lends itself well to the addition of just about any combination that the cook might enjoy. No worrying about not being able to find a particular fish, just substitute what’s on hand, or in season.
This was printed in my Chowders and Soups book, and it’s the first time I’ve shared it outside the book.

Freeform Seafood Chowder Base
For the more adventurous cook

This is the chowder recipe base I most often use. It doesn’t rely on measuring, and I’ve yet to find a sea creature that didn’t taste delicious in it! It’s not a thick chowder, but the coffee cream adds a velvety texture.

Potato, diced (peels may be off or on)
Celery, diced
Onion, diced
(3 parts potato to 1 part celery, 1 part onion)
(the size of the dice is not as important as the consistency—all of the vegetables should be cut to the same size so that they cook evenly)
Fish Stock
Coffee cream
(use 2 parts stock to 1 part coffee cream)
Fresh herbs (usually basil and thyme)

In a heavy bottomed pot over low heat, melt butter. Add vegetables and gently cook
until soft, stirring occasionally.
Add whatever fish or shellfish you are using, and continue stirring until fish is cooked. Add fish stock and coffee cream. Stir until heated, do not boil, (coffee cream may curdle) add salt, pepper and fresh herbs to taste.

NaNoWriMo Update: I’ve fallen behind on my word count, so I don’t think I’m going to make the deadline. But, I’m going to keep going with the hopes of finishing by Christmas. Silvern Voices will be heard!

Silvern Voices extra: Aquarius Menu


Here’s the menu, as the picture is not that clear:

Small Plates & Bowls

Snow Crab Bisque 12
Curried Split Pea Soup with Coconut Milk 9
Breads & Spreads: Smoked Capelin Pate/Seal Rillettes/Rabbit Compote 15
Beet Carpaccio 10
Warm Mushroom Dandelion Salad 9
Marinated Mussel Salad 12

Large Plates & Bowls

Asian Tea-Smoked Cod 22
Mediterranean Braised Cod Tongues 24
Olive Oil Poached Ouannaniche 26
North Atlantic Bouillabaisse 24
Moroccan Rabbit Tagine 27
Buttermilk Grouse with Bacon Stuffing 26
Tandoori Barbecued Leg of Lamb 32
Barolo Braised Moose 31

Our Sommelier would be pleased to suggest the perfect wine match for your meal from our extensive cellar, featuring our award-winning reserve list

The Constellation Hotel
The Battery ~ St. John’s

Reservations about No Reservations?

Flocking to a new restaurant?

Flocking to a new restaurant?

I was on CBC Halifax’s Mainstreet today, chatting about restaurants with “no reservation” policies. This is a new trend, sweeping in from larger American centres like New York and Washington DC.

Like any story, there are two sides to this, and it’s been quite the divisive issue. Having been on both the kitchen side and the patron side, I’m sitting on the fence for this one.
New York restaurateur Ken Friedman (the Spotted Pig) has become the standard bearer for no reservations. He’s on record as saying he wants his restaurant to feel busy, more like a bar. That people come and wait in the bar, have a drink, and create a buzz. “Quiet is death”.
Now, that buzz business is great in big markets, with rock-star chefs and restaurants that are viewed as places to be seen if you’re somebody, where you have the clientele who feed into and off of that buzz, but it’s a different situation in smaller markets.

Aside from the hype generation, it can make fiscal sense. Not taking reservations means you don’t have to worry about no-shows and last-minute cancellations, the sort of things that lead to lost revenue and wasted labour. You don’t have to worry about guests leaving in time for the next seating, thereby ticking off the next party that’s supposed to be seated there. And I would wager it’s in smaller cities, like Halifax, St John’s, Victoria, where revenue as opposed to buzz is the driving force behind these decisions.

And then there’s the downside. Who do you risk alienating by having a no reservations policy?
Older patrons who may not want to or be able to wait for long periods
Parents with babysitters, who don’t want to be later than they promise, or add to their restaurant bill with more money tabbed for a sitter.
People coming from outside the area
Special occasion diners
The business dinner crowd

Ultimately, it’s up for the restaurant to decide if their target demographic is going to be affected by the policy, and if alienating certain diners is worth it. The savvy restaurant owner will reverse a decision quickly if it’s not making sense for them.

So, what if the restaurant you’ve been dying to try doesn’t take reservations, and you don’t want to wait in line? Well, unless you’re in one of those big markets where the restaurant is packed every night, it shouldn’t be a problem if you keep these things in mind:

• Don’t go during prime time; that’s typically 7pm. Go for the 5.30pm or 6.00pm seating; remember, your table hasn’t been booked for later diners, so take your time, enjoy a drink, and you can still wait to eat.
• Avoid weekends or holidays like Valentine’s day
• If the restaurant is close to a venue like a theatre or stadium, check to see if any big shows are playing as the restaurants will likely be very busy before and after the show.

Standing in line is not something that appeals to me, but nor would it deter me from going.
I would love to hear your thoughts on it–would you stand in line for a restaurant?