A large female Atlantic cod can lay up to five million eggs in her lifetime. But millions of eggs are no match for millions of dollars. In 1992, the species neared extinction due to worldwide demand, and it’s just recently that its numbers have stabilized enough to return it to market.
And what a welcome it deserves! This is the fish Vikings pursued across the Atlantic, that Basques have preserved as baccalà since medieval times, that Scots smoke for finnan haddie, that drew Irish and English fishery workers to settle Newfoundland three centuries ago. Its largesse gave title to that hooked Massachusetts Cape in 1602. Now cod swim again in their namesake’s waters, and northward through Canada’s, too. They’ve already spawned in the cold, deep north Atlantic, and their schools are currently surging through coastal waters. Mt Kisco Seafood (477 Lexington Ave, Mount Kisco 914-241-3113) purveyor Joe DiMauro is one happy celebrant. His shop is again able to offer wild Atlantic cod, and it is on the menu at his Fish Cellar restaurant (213 Main St, Mount Kisco 914-666-4448) as well. “The price has really come down in recent months,” he says. “Atlantic cod is in ample supply.”
According to DiMauro, it’s the perfect fish for frying, poaching, broiling, baking, smoking, or preserving. And it’s healthy, too, with a low fat content. You can devise your own menu from DiMauro’s shop’s filets, finnan haddie, or baccalà, or you can indulge in Fish Cellar chef Lisa Graziano’s options. Her pan-roasted filets are finished in a miso broth and placed over silky udon noodles, or on another night, broiled and sauced with a mushroom ragu over soft polenta. “I love wild cod’s clean, mild flavor,” she says. “It holds up to a variety of sauces, from a light citrus treatment in warmer months to the heartier ragus of winter.”
Thankfully, the fish is now available to Graziano, and the rest of us, through every season. And unlike European traders of old, we don’t have to be inconvenienced to find it. They had to cross the ocean, bring their cod catch to outlying Canadian islands, salt and bury it, then pick it up on their way back home. “The only problem was that birds would land and pick at it,” DiMauro chuckles. One taste of his shop’s baccalà, and can’t say you’d blame them.
Broiled Wild Cod with Mushroom Ragu
Courtesy of Lisa Graziano
¼ cup good extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup onion, in medium dice
3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
4 cups mixed fresh mushrooms, such as shiitakes and cremini, sliced thin
¼ cup dry white wine, such as Pino Grigio
2 cups canned, crushed or diced tomatoes
1 Tbsp fresh oregano or Italian parsley, minced, more for garnish
Preheat broiler. In large saucepan over medium-low flame, heat olive oil. When oil shimmers, add onion and garlic and cook until softened, but not browned. Stir in mushrooms and cook until tender. Add wine, cook 2 minutes. Turn heat to low, add tomatoes, and simmer until ragu thickens, about 5 minutes. While simmering, proceed to cod preparation.
6 6- to 8-oz wild cod filet portions
Salt, to taste
Fresh-ground pepper, to taste
Garlic powder, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, for brushing
Season both sides of filets with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Brush with olive oil. Place in pan and broil on top rack until fish is opaque and flakes with a fork, about 5 to 7 minutes.
When ragu is thickened, stir in oregano, and season with salt and pepper. Place filet portion on plate and top with ragu. Garnish with additional oregano or parsley, if desired.