In cod we trust–or can we?
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.
Then 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.