It's interesting how things beneath the sea change. Not so long ago we were told that cod was endangered and so we should eat other species. Well that backfired slightly, as some of those species are now endangered themselves. In some parts of the world stocks decline because of overfishing or even the wrong type of fishing. By that I mean trawling up the sea bed and damaging the coral that attract certain species, with the result that they have to feed elsewhere
What I do know is that on my doorstep in Lyme Regis, inshore cod is now plentiful throughout the year. This is down to a trawling ban some years back, so the feeding beds have now recovered. The other interesting thing that has been enforced this year is the three bass daily limit for non-commercial anglers. This has had mixed views among sport anglers, but like salmon fishing, why not still have the fun and catch and release your fish? After all, you can only eat and give away a certain amount of fish until you get bored of it.
Even though cod is plentiful, that's not to say you should be wasteful with the cuts you buy, or we will end up in the same boat again. So try to buy a whole fish and use it all, over several meals. Get hold of a decent filleting knife, and try dissecting it yourself – go on, its good practice. Or if you're a bit squeamish, simply ask your fishmonger to fillet the thing and give you the various components for the recipes below.
Makes about 1-1.5 ltrs
How often do we make homemade fish stock these days? Very rarely I'd say, but it's a brilliant way to use every last piece of the fish, even the bones and head.
There are so many tasty things that can be made from a good stock. Fish soup, for example, with the addition of just a few extra ingredients, is a super year-round dish. Or you could make water souchy, a traditional preparation of fish stewed with herbs. Here is a very simple fish stock that can be used now or kept in the freezer for all kinds of fishy dinners, soups and sauces.
1kg or so of white fish bones, tails and heads, washed
2 medium leeks, roughly chopped
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
A couple of sticks of celery, roughly chopped
Half a lemon
1tsp fennel seeds
20 black peppercorns
A couple of sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
A few parsley stalks
Put the bones into a pot with the rest of the ingredients, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 20 minutes, skimming any scum off occasionally.
Strain the stock through a fine-meshed sieve. Check its strength and reduce it if necessary. Leave to cool.
Steamed cod with parsley sauce
This brings back memories of my grandmother's cooking. Her sauces were pretty basic but they were packed with garden-fresh parsley and absolutely delicious. It's crucial to get as much freshly chopped parsley into the sauce as possible, so don't be shy!
For the parsley sauce
A good knob of butter
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
100ml white wine
200ml fish stock
400ml double cream
2tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Sea and freshly ground white pepper
4 thick-boned and skinned cod loin portions, weighing about 180-200g each
A good knob of butter
First make the sauce: melt the butter in a heavy-based pan and gently cook the shallots over a low heat for about a minute until soft. Add the white wine and fish stock, and simmer until reduced to about a tablespoon or so. Add the double cream and simmer until it's reduced at least by half, and the sauce has thickened. Add the parsley and simmer for another minute or so to let it infuse. Season to taste.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C/ gas mark 6. Season the cod fillets with salt and white pepper and put them in an ovenproof dish. Rub them with butter and bake for about 10-15 minutes. Remove and dab with kitchen paper. Pour any cooking liquid from the cod into the sauce, then bring it back to the boil. Serve the sauce spooned over the cod and accompanied by steamed spinach or mashed potato.
Roast cod's head with cockles
This is a British version of the popular Spanish dish of hake head with clams. It's one of those sharing dishes that looks pretty impressive and you will have to get stuck in and get your hands dirty.
You will be surprised quite how much delicious meat is left on a fish head once it's been removed from the body. Live cockles are much easier to come by these days and represent good value.
1 cod's head weighing about a kilo or more
A couple good knobs of butter
A tablespoon of olive or rapeseed oil
Sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
2tbsp chopped parsley
To prepare the cockles, put them in a bowl of cold water and agitate with your hands. Run the tap very slowly over the bowl and continue agitating every so often, both to remove sand from their shells and to force them to spit out any from the insides.
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Place the cod's head in a roasting tray, rub over a little butter, spoon over some oil and season well. Roast the head for about 20 minutes, basting as it's cooking. Meanwhile put the cockles in a pan with the sherry, cover with a lid and cook on a medium heat, shaking the pan every so often until they are all open. Add the parsley and any cooking juices from the cod to the pan. Transfer the cod to a serving platter and spoon over the cockles and their cooking juices.
Fishcakes are great for using up offcuts and cheaper types of flaky fish, such as whiting and coley. A bit of smoked haddock boosts the flavour, while salmon imparts a good colour (as does a little tomato ketchup if you wish). A few dashes of anchovy essence can make for a good additional seasoning.
There are endless ways of varying the basic mix: you can use all smoked fish for a fine strong flavour; make Cajun fish cakes by using salt fish and chopped chilli; or make mini versions of any type of fishcake to serve with drinks.
Sauce-wise, for breadcrumbed fishcakes a mayonnaise type sauce (like a tartare or a herb mayonnaise) works best. If you fancy not going for the breadcrumb option and just pan-frying them, then a herb sauce made with parsley, fennel or sorrel makes a good partner.
300g or so of cod offcuts (such as tail, belly and so on), skinned and boned
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
300g dry mashed potato with no butter or milk added
½tbsp anchovy essence
½tbsp English mustard
2tbsp chopped dill
Flour, for dusting
2 eggs, beaten
50-60g fresh white breadcrumbs
Vegetable oil, for frying
Poach the fish gently in lightly salted water (or fish stock if you want to use it to make a sauce) for 3-4 minutes, drain, allow to cool and then flake the flesh. Mix the potato, half the fish, the anchovy essence, mustard, dill and salt and pepper, then gently fold in the remaining fish. Mould the mixture into four large round cakes, or eight smaller ones. Refrigerate for about an hour.
Lightly flour the chilled fishcakes, shaking off any excess, then pass through the beaten egg and finally the breadcrumbs. Shallow fry them in the oil for about 3-4 minutes on each side, until golden brown, and serve with your sauce of choice as mentioned above.
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