Celebrity chef John Ash shares secrets to cooking black cod
I’ve been asked in the past, “If you had to eat only one fish … what would it be?” Without question it’s black cod (anoplopoma fimbria).
To set the record straight, it’s not part of the cod family, and it isn’t black. It’s also known as sablefish, butterfish, coalfish, skilfish and gindara in sushi restaurants. It has so many names because of its global popularity.
Most of this rich, buttery fish is exported to Japan but it’s widely available cryovaced and frozen (not a problem because of its high fat content) and fresh in good fish markets. Black cod makes an excellent substitute for Chilean sea bass, which has in general been badly overfished.
Black cod is harvested from Northern California all the way through to the Aleutian Islands. It is the cold water, Gulf of Alaska source that is the most highly desired. Black cod mature quickly and have long lifespans. The oldest recorded was more than 90 years old. That means they can reproduce early and long, making them a good sustainable seafood choice according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, which ranks it as a “Best Choice.”
Black cod is an amazing fish. Not to be confused with “true cod” or Pacific cod, it is a deep-sea fish. It can live up to 5,000 feet below the sea.
In this cold, dark world it stores a lot of fat in the form of omega-3s. Black cod have the highest omega-3 content of any white fish, even higher than most species of salmon.
This high omega-3 content makes black cod super healthy. The high fat content gives black cod its unique silky texture and rich, buttery flavor. This is one of the reasons it is also known as butterfish.
From a cook’s point of view, black cod is probably the most forgiving fish to cook. Because of its healthy fat, you really can’t overcook it.
It will fall apart eventually, but it will still be rich and buttery unlike other white fishes that will dry out if they get overcooked. Black cod lends itself to every cooking technique, including grilled, smoked, broiled, poached, steamed, roasted or sautéed.
It is especially good when married to Asian flavors such as soy, ginger and miso marinades. It is a great fish to serve to kids and others who claim “they don’t like fish.”
If you have a dedicated smoker, the following recipe is very easy. Just follow manufacturer’s directions.
Alternately you can use a stovetop smoker as long as you have good ventilation or jury-rig a wok with a cover. (You can get a mini stovetop smoker from Camerons for $25 on Amazon.)
If using the wok with cover, make sure to control temperature. Use whatever smoking chips you like.
I prefer fruit woods like apple or cherry. Serve on crackers, flaked over a tossed green salad or with bagels and cream cheese.
Hot Smoked Black Cod
Makes 1 pound
— For fish:
1 1-pound black cod fillets, skin on
— Soaked smoking chips
4 tablespoons honey
— For brine:
1 quart water
6 tablespoons kosher salt
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 lemon, juiced
1 lime, juiced
1 orange, zested and juiced