Emma Frisch - food blogger extraordinaire, cookbook author, mama, and co-founder of Firelight Camps - joins us again to share her connection to Alaska, provide a few excellent cooking tips, and share a fabulous recipe.
When wild salmon drew me to Alaska in 2015, I hadn’t expected to discover another fish that would steal my heart and palette: Sablefish, otherwise known as Black Cod or more aptly, “Butterfish.”
Like every other worker bracing against the salt and scales, I was standing on the puddle-strewn floor of the processing plant wearing my xtratuff boots. My guide, Kendall Whitney, directed my attention away from the totes of coho and king salmon to another table. Without hiding his reverence, he whispered, “now those are black cod.”
“What’s black cod?” I asked naively.
“Let’s try some,” he said. That night we dined at Ludvig’s Bistro with several friends and salmon warriors, and I had my first bite of black cod. To this day I can’t remember how it was cooked, but I do remember it was one of the most luxurious bites of fish I have ever had.
The good news is, you don’t have to have a trained chef at a fancy restaurant prepare black cod for you. Alaskan black cod tastes buttery and has a delicate, velvety texture that comes from its high-fat content; not necessarily from the way it’s prepared and cooked. On the contrary, black cod shines in simple recipes and is difficult to overcook!
Because black cod is so rich, I wanted to prepare a zesty, tangy tomato sauce to balance the fish’s oily texture. I simply coated the black cod portions with olive oil and salt, then layered lemon slices on top. I roasted the black cod with acorn squash, while preparing braised tomatoes to dress the fish. The result was astounding, and a perfect compliment to the harvest season when seafood and vegetables are coming in from the sea and fields.
I hope you’ll consider treating yourself to Wild For Salmon’s Black Cod and preparing this recipe at home!
With love and gratitude // E
Black Cod vs Common Cod
Sablefish bears the alias “black cod” due to its dark black scales and similar appearance to common, Pacific cod. Both fish live in the Pacific and can look very much alike, which people end up confusing. Black cod, however, isn’t related to Pacific cod at all, and should never be substituted for each other.
Common, Pacific cod has a firm, lean, and flakey white meat, while black cod has velvety, fatty white meat. When overcooked, common cod becomes dry and chewy. Black cod, on the other hand, is so fatty that it’s hard to dry out (a novice cooks dream!).
If you’re looking for an alternative to black cod, try Chilean sea bass, which is just as fatty and rich. Now, these luxurious fish are fairly pricey, so you may want to consider saving them for a special occasion and using a more affordable, high-quality fatty fish, like wild Alaskan salmon or halibut, for everyday meals.
The Health Benefits of Black Cod
- Black cod contains twice as many Omega-3 fats as salmon.
- The fatty acids in black cod are good for brain and heart health.
- These also help keep blood vessels healthy and regulate blood pressure.
- Black cod is an excellent source of protein.
Mercury Levels of Black Cod
Black cod can be part of a healthy diet, but it’s wise to consider its mercury level, especially if you’re a woman who is pregnant or breastfeeding.
All fish contain trace amounts of mercury, which is an element that’s commonly found in soil and water. Fish that grow in polluted fisheries are more likely to have higher mercury levels. It can increase levels in adults who eat fish as part of their regular diet—eventually becoming harmful to their health.
Fortunately, Alaskan black cod lives in one of the cleanest bodies of water in the world. Alaskan seafood is generally lower in mercury levels thanks to their preserved water. Learn more about the mercury levels in Wild For Salmon seafood, here.
Black Cod and Sustainability
Black cod has an extremely long life span, some reaching over 90 years old! That means they can reproduce early and more often, making them a wonderfully sustainable seafood choice. In fact, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s rating system for environmentally-conscious seafood, black cod is one of the best choices for seafood.
Where to Buy Black Cod
If you live on the west coast, you’ll likely find fresh black cod at the grocery store or fish market. Off-season, black cod is available frozen as well as online from a number of retailers, including Wild for Salmon.
How to Cook Black Cod
Black cod is wonderfully versatile, and its high-fat content makes it forgiving if overcooked. Before you start cooking, make sure you remove all the little bones that run along the fish’s centerline, as some purveyors don’t remove all of them.
Baked: Coat black cod in olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Arrange on a baking dish or sheet and bake in a 400F oven for 10 minutes.
Broiled: Set an oven rack 3 to 4 inches from the heat source, then preheat the broiler. Place the black cod in a well-greased or nonstick ovenproof baking dish or skillet, and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Broil, adjusting the time or rack position if the fish is browning too quickly until fish is golden and just cooked through.
Pan-Fried: In a large nonstick skillet, heat light cooking oil (such as safflower) over medium-high heat. Season the black cod with salt and pepper. Cook each fillet, skin-side down, until golden and crisp, about 5 minutes. Flip the fish and sear until just cooked through.
Grilled: Make sure your grill is well oiled; black cod is fragile and can easily stick to the grill and fall apart. Heat the grill to medium-high, then place the black cod directly over the heat and cook on each side until just cooked through, about 10 minutes. Best of all, you don’t have to worry too much about the fish getting overcooked if you look away for too long.
Poached: Arrange cod fillets in a single layer in a shallow saucepan; cover with water and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add in any aromatics or spices like bay leaf or ginger. Cover again, and cook for 5 more minutes.
Smoked: Smoked sable is a staple at Jewish delis. It’s usually sold sliced and used as a topping for bagels. If you have a smoker, check out this recipe for homemade Smoked Sablefish from Honest Food.
Raw: If you like fatty tuna or salmon belly sushi, then you’ll love raw black cod. Just make sure you’re sourcing sushi-grade black cod, like from Wild For Salmon.
BAKED ALASKAN BLACK COD WITH LEMON-ROSEMARY BRAISED TOMATOES AND ROASTED ACORN SQUASH
Black cod is such a luxurious, buttery fish that it needs very little prodding to feel special. This braised tomato sauce is a perfect compliment, adding an herbaceous, tangy, and lightly sweet topping that pairs perfectly. The acorn squash melds just as beautifully with the braised tomatoes and rounds out this dish to make it a hearty, delicious meal. I love using a variety of cherry tomatoes to really make this dish pop in beauty. And don’t forget to save your squash seeds so you can try making your own variation of roasted seeds to snack on.
For Braised Tomatoes: