A Tale of Two Cods
Three fish - a lingcod , a pacific cod and a black cod - walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says, “We don’t serve cod in this here bar.” Two of the fish look at each other, shrug and order their drinks anyway. The third one has to leave. Do you know which fish has to go get his drink from the pond?
The point of this not-so-funny joke is to show that seafood naming conventions are often misleading, and sometimes downright false. As the happy bar patrons of our story above can tell you, “cod” is one of most commonly misused fish names in the ocean. It is often mistakenly used to describe nearly any white-fleshed bottom fish that isn’t a flatfish like halibut or sole.
There are only two fish that are readily commercially available that are properly named “cod.” The Atlantic Cod, the famous fish of the Grand Banks of the Atlantic, and the Pacific Cod. Both are commonly sold as “true cod,” “grey cod”, or simply “cod.” Both of these cousins were historically caught and salted/dried in the days before refrigeration. The quality of the flesh was terribly degraded at that point compared to what we enjoy in more modern times, but it was a staple food source for voyagers and cheap protein for those on land. As new fishing grounds were found, and new species of fish were found to be commercially viable, many of the new fish with white flesh were tagged as a “cod” of some sort, purely for market recognition. Hence, a flood of new “cod” fish were found on the markets, plying on the true cod’s reputation.
Catch Sitka offers two fish that have “cod” in their names that are definitely not cod – our Wild Alaskan Lingcod and the Wild Alaskan Black Cod, otherwise known as sablefish. They are both white fleshed fish, but vastly different in character. Let’s talk about the lingcod first.
The lingcod is the largest member of the greenling family, a group of long-bodied bottom fish with large heads that can reach 6 feet long and 75 pounds. We typically catch them from 90-300 feet below the surface. The business end of a lingcod is nothing to mess with, as they have huge mouths for their size and an impressive set of teeth. They will eat nearly anything they can fit in their mouth, and are famous for their aggressive behavior when they are feeding. Lingcod are very strictly and sustainably managed in Alaska, the methods our fleet primarily uses to catch them is called a “dinglebarring.”
Dinglebarring (we swear we’re not making this up!) is a specifically directed, low-impact fishing method, and the boats that use this method are those we prefer to source our fish from. In conducting this fishery, the boats troll slowly through the water with a single heavy steel bar, called the dinglebar, just barely touching bottom. The fisherman stands at the rail with his hand on the wire, constantly feeling for the jolt of either the dinglebar bouncing off the bottom or a fish biting the lures. Attached to the wire, just above that dinglebar, is a series of jigs suspended off the bottom in a “train” that is trailed behind the dinglebar. Lingcod, being the aggressive feeders they are, will come off the bottom to bite the jigs as they flutter over the underwater terrain.
Lingcod offers a flaky white flesh with a moderate oil and fat content. Perfect for baking or frying, our recipe for Asian Ginger Lingcod on Stir Fried Bok Choy is a personal favorite of ours. Crowd pleasing and delicious, it’s also a one skillet meal, which we love. An unusual thing about lingcod is that if they’ve been eating crabs and other shellfish, their meat can take on a pastel blue or green tint. It doesn’t affect the flavor at all, and no matter what color it is when taken from the ocean, it cooks up snow white.
The other fish with “cod” in its name that we offer is Wild Alaskan Black Cod, or Sablefish. It is an interesting bottom fish found in very deep water along the west coast from way out to the end of the Aleutian Chain, up into the Bering Sea, and down to California. They are typically caught in waters from 1000-6000 feet deep. Over a mile under water! They are a very rich fish, extremely high in oil content and omega-3 fatty acids. Sablefish are also known as butter fish, since they can be cooked in a hot skillet without the use of oil or butter – its flesh renders enough oil to cook in its own juices.
Sablefish have a more robust flavor than our other white-fleshed fish, and are an extremely valuable export fish for the US. In fact, well over 90% of our sablefish historically goes to overseas markets. We’d like to see more of this rich resource land on US plates, and we are working to bring sablefish directly to the domestic market through our efforts here at Catch Sitka.
One of our favorite recipes for sablefish is our Warm and Flavorful Baked Miso Sablefish, a sweet and savory preparation in the form of a miso marinade. We then prefer to broil it until the sugars in the brine caramelize, but there are several recipes of varying complexities online and in our Recipe Box - all of which get our mouths watering!
So there you have it, a “Tale of Two Cods.” You’re now smarter for having read the Catch Sitka blog - now imagine how big of a favor you’ll be doing for your brain when you put some of our delicious, sustainably-harvested, hook-and-line Wild Alaskan Seafood on your plate!