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Valentine's Day Recap: The Mystery of Black Cod

In romance, a bit of mystery is a good thing. When it comes to cooking, though, the opposite is true. The fine folks at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute sent me a package of Black Cod for my Valentine’s Dinner, and while I thought I knew what Black Cod was good for, I was wrong. I completely botched the dinner.

I knew of Nobu’s famous Black Cod in Miso, and I think I had the rich and delicious fish on my recent trip to Alaska. But what I didn’t realize (though I should have, given the way almost all the recipes for the fish treat it) is that the fish really needs a good marinade, if not a good sauce.

The local seafood that I cook during the summer from my neighborhood greenmarket has spoiled me. I get off easy making that fish—you really don’t have to do anything to it to taste the freshness of the sea.

Black Cod, it turn out, is better known as Sablefish, and Sablefish is most commonly found smoked. The fish is silky and rich and it can stand up to smoking very well. I opted to go in the opposite direction when I cooked it on Valentine’s Day, and as a result, I failed. I put just a bit of honey and lemon and thyme on it, and I broiled it just long enough to get it brown on top and moist in the center. It looked delicious, and after much fanfare I brought it to the table, where Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria all more or less spurned it. The best thing I can say about that meal is that no one—the chef included—ended up crying.

I didn’t give up on the Black Cod, though, and this weekend I make a killer chowder with it. The afternoon was cold and rainy, and the chowder was rich and warm. I got the recipe from the ASMI folks, who got it from Christine Keff, chef at The Flying Fish, in Seattle, Washington.

Her chowder recipe was for any Alaskan whitefish, and I adapted it a bit to accommodate the Black Cod. I stepped up the flavors, adding a bacon, and a touch of smoked paprika. This time, the Black Cod sent Santa Maria into spirals of joy, and there was no mystery about why: The chowder was delicous!

Alaska Black-Cod Chowder

  • 2 oz. butter
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • Half an onion, chopped
  • 2 slices of bacon, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 small leek, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 and 1/2 cups diced tomatoes (canned is fine)
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups fish stock or clam juice (I used chicken stock)
  • 3 or 4 Yukon Gold potatoes, diced
  • 2 cups Alaska Black Cod, cut into 1 inch cubes.
  • 1 cup cream
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter in the oil and sweat the chopped vegetables, bay leaf ,and thyme slowly until the onions are translucent.

Add the garlic and the paprika and sauté a bit more

Add the tomatoes and cook for 15 minutes.

Add the flour and cook on low for about 10 minutes, or until the floury taste is gone. Add the wine and simmer until the alcohol is cooked out.

Add the stock or clam juice and the potatoes and season to taste.

Simmer until the potatoes are almost soft, about 15 minutes, depending on how large you cubed your potatoes.

Add the cream and the fish and simmer for about 10 minutes more.

Add the parsley, correct the seasoning and serve.

Serves: 4-6

Note: The original recipe called for four cups of cream. Four cups! I started by pouring one cup in, and it looked about right to me. If you want more liquid, consider adding the extra cream, or—if you care about your health—adding a bit of milk instead. And I had the next day with another big fillet of the fish (cubed, of course) so you can always up the amount of fish you include.

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