Salmon seems to get most of the attention from nutritionists and food writers as a supposed “superfood.”
But let’s not forget about codfish. It’s an equally good—and tasty—choice.
Plus, it also served as an important food source for Native Americans and colonial settlers in the “New World.” And eventually, it helped establish America as a major exporting powerhouse.
So, today, let’s talk a little about its history and its many nutritional benefits. I’ll also share with you two delicious ways to prepare it!
Cod’s healthy history goes back for centuries
Cod is a nutrient-dense, flaky, mild-tasting, white fish with a long history in the Americas. In fact, Native Americans first fished for cod along the northern Atlantic coastline using hooks they made from cod bones and nets made from natural fibers.
Later, European explorers to the “New World” also began mining the New England coast for cod—even before there were permanent colonial settlements here.
Eventually, cod served as America’s first major export. In fact, one of the most famous peninsulas in the world, located in my home state of Massachusetts—Cape Cod—takes its name from the codfish. And for nearly four centuries, the fish played a central role in the state’s economy and even appears on the official Commonwealth seal.
But modern restrictions imposed on the fishing of Atlantic cod caused the once-great and historic fishing industry to grind to a halt in New England. Especially in the historic fishing town of Gloucester, MA, near where I grew up and where we now stay in the summers.
Fisherman unloading and packing cod in Gloucester, MA, in 1882. Photo credit: https://americanhistory.si.edu/onthewater/exhibition/3_4.html
Thankfully, there are now plenty of cod (as well as wild Pacific salmon) on the Alaskan coastline. And we can only hope that bounty holds out…
Because not only do the cod fisheries in Alaska support Alaskan fisherman, they also support the economy back East—as the fisherman actually ship their Alaskan cod and other fish to the great packing houses on the Gloucester harbor in Massachusetts.
Of course, Alaska has far more shoreline than Massachusetts to support the cod fisheries. Plus, there are innumerable islands that extend all the way west within two miles of Russia. (Little Diamede Island, which belongs to the U.S., is just a little more than 2 miles away from Big Diamede Island, which belongs to Russia.)
Now, let’s move onto the nutritional benefits of cod…
Packed with nutrients—and flavor
Cod is packed with important nutrients. For one, it’s high in protein. In fact, just one serving of cod contains about 40 grams of protein. And remember—most people need more protein in their diet. Especially as they get older, as it helps them stay independent longer.
Cod is also a good source of essential omega-3 fatty acids—which protect you against cardiovascular disease, dementia, mood disorders, and much more. In fact, studies show that eating cold-water fish like cod particularly helps prevent atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries).
Cod also contains more than 100 percent of the daily requirement of vitamin B12—which helps support your energy production and nerve health. This makes cod a great choice for people with Type II diabetes who may take metformin (which depletes the body’s stores of vitamin B12).
Now that you know why you should put cod on the menu more often…let’s go over two of my favorite ways to prepare it…
Flavorful recipes for any season
Here’s a recipe I enjoy making on Fridays, when I have a bit more time. It’s both tasty and healthy and comes from Edible Seattle: The Cookbook…
Alaskan Black Cod with Kombu Dashi, Kale, and Sage
- 3 tbsp kosher salt
- 5 dried porcini mushrooms
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, thin sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 2 inches fresh ginger, minced
- 1 celery stalk, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 lbs fish bones and scraps
- 4 sheets of dry kombu or 1 lb fresh kelp
- ½ cup white wine
- 4 six-ounce wild Alaska cod fillets
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp shallots, chopped
- 1 leek, chopped
- 1 cup kale, sliced
- 1 tbsp fresh sage, chopped
- In a coffee or spice grinder, grind 1 tbsp salt and porcini mushrooms together for one minute, sift, and set aside.
- In a large soup pot, heat olive oil on medium high. Add bay leaves, celery, garlic, ginger, and 1 tbsp salt and cook for 5 minutes. Then, add fish bones and scraps, kelp, and wine, and simmer for 10 minutes
- To prepare the broth, add 3 quarts of water to the large soup pot and simmer on medium heat for 75 minutes. Then, skim off and discard the ingredients that float to surface of the broth.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place cod fillets on the pan, seasoning it liberally with the prepared porcini salt. Place the pan in the oven for 40 minutes.
- While cod is baking, heat a sauté pan on medium and add butter, leek, shallots, and remaining salt. Then sauté until tender, but not browned. Add the kale and sage and continue sautéing until kale is soft.
- Separate the sautéed kale into 4 portions and place the baked cod onto the kale. Pour broth on and around the cod and kale and serve hot.
If that sounds like too much, here’s my own one-pot recipe for baccalà (Italian codfish) made with traditional, salted cod. (Historically, fishermen preserved fresh cod by sitting it on the rocks at the shoreline to dry. Then, they packed it in barrels with salt. The salted fish would keep for months this way at room temperature, until ready to sell or cook.)
My personal one-pot recipe for baccalà
For this simple baccalà recipe, take a dried, salted codfish fillet and place it in a pan in fresh water. Change the water twice a day, for three days, to rehydrate and drain off the excess salt.
Then, on the third day, sauté a few glugs of olive oil, three cloves garlic, and half a finely chopped onion to taste in a large, shallow sauce pan. When browned, add tomato sauce. (You can use one 8 oz jar of store-bought, organic tomato sauce or you can make your own sauce, as I recently described.)
Next, place the rehydrated codfish into the simmering sauce. Add a handful of capers, black or green olives, and/or pickled peppers to taste.
Simmer it all together on low for one-to-two hours to absorb the sauce and flavors, checking to see that the cod has become tender and flaky.
To make the dish a bit more substantial, you can add three or four cubed, boiled potatoes to the sauce when you put in the cod.
With winter approaching, this recipe makes for some hearty fare with a high “satiety index,” which means you’ll feel full and satisfied without having to consume large quantities.
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“Roasted Wild Alaskan Baked Cod.” Town Lively, 7/23/18. (townlively.com/roasted-wild-alaskan-black-cod/)
“Dietary intake of cod and scallop reduces atherosclerotic burden in female apolipoprotein E-deficient mice fed a Western-type high fat diet for 13 weeks.” Dietary intake of cod and scallop reduces atherosclerotic burden in female apolipoprotein E-deficient mice fed a Western-type high fat diet for 13 weeks. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2016;13:8. doi:10.1186/s12986-016-0068-z