For culinary purposes, Pacific cod is indistinguishable from Atlantic cod. However, Atlantic cod, the basis of New England’s first industry, has attained an almost iconic status—the carved wooden “sacred cod” hangs prominently in the Massachusetts State House—whereas the Pacific cod in Alaska has a long history of being considered a second-rate fish. Those whose interest is marketing Atlantic cod are mostly to blame. It’s time to begin giving the versatile and delicious Pacific cod the recognition it deserves.
Alaska’s cod fishery, in the words of federal fisheries inspector E. Lester Jones in 1914, “is the oldest fishery proper in Alaska,” having its inception while Alaska was still under Russian control. Jones characterized Alaska cod as being “of first-class quality, and notwithstanding occasional adverse reports it is equal in every way to the Atlantic cod.”
Nearly a century later, Alaska’s Pacific cod continues to be disparaged. For example, several months ago, I shopped at a Giant Eagle grocery store in Pittsburgh. At the fairly extensive seafood counter, the store was giving away a little booklet on fish and its preparation. In it, Atlantic cod was characterized as being “sweeter than Pacific cod.”
The perfect opportunity to begin eliminating this falsehood and the others that surround Pacific cod is the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation’s Symphony of Seafood, which will be held in Anchorage in late February. The event should feature a blind taste test—think Pepsi vs. Coke—between Atlantic and Pacific cod. Using frozen fish might be the best way to ensure a fair test. The East Coast folks could provide their best, the Alaska folks could provide theirs, and the fish could be prepared by chefs using a simple recipe. This test is long overdue and could be duplicated at culinary events at other locations, such as on the East Coast.
Jim Mackovjak lives in Gustavus, in Southeast Alaska, where he operated Point Adolphus Seafoods for 18 years.
Kinds of Pacific Cod
Many fish are labeled cod in the market because they share similar traits―firm, white, meaty flesh. Here’s a rundown of the most common cod you’ll find in markets.
Atlantic Cod (Scrod, Whitefish)
The quintessential firm, white fish, Atlantic cod was historically used for most of the fish in fish-and-chips. Now,Alaskan pollock is routinely substituted. Plentiful for 500 years,Atlantic cod could not keep up with demand with the advent of industrialized fishing. When cod is unavailable, substitute haddock, hake, cusk, tilapia, pollock, striped bass, or white seabass.
Pacific Cod (Alaska Cod, True Cod, Grey Cod, Tara, Codfish)
Once dwarfed by Atlantic cod landings, Pacific cod is considered the world’s second-most abundant white fish. Its mild flavor and flaky texture equals that of Atlantic cod.
Black Cod (Sablefish, Butterfish)
Not a true cod, most of this rich, buttery North Pacific fish is exported to Japan. Black cod mature quickly and have long lifespans―the oldest recorded was 94 years old. That means they can reproduce early and long, making them a good sustainable seafood choice. Black cod makes an excellent substitute for Chileansea bass. Due to its high fat content and mild flavor, black cod isideal when smoked.