Given that we live within spitting distance of Cape Cod, you'd think finding a beautiful piece of the fish that lends it's name to this region wouldn't be too difficult a task. Sadly, most of the cod we see around here, even in the best retail fish markets, doesn't get me very excited these days. Sob….sob…sniffle…
I suppose I shouldn't complain too loudly, because it wasn't too many years ago that finding any cod at all was a bit of a challenge. The poor things had been over-fished so badly that it took years of strict, government imposed limit restrictions on fishermen to finally allow our local cod stock to rise again to a healthy, sustainable level. Our problem these days is not that we have a hard time finding very fresh cod, because there is plenty to be found, but rather that I'm almost always disappointed with the quality of the cut I can find at my local fishmonger. You see, the best part of the fish is the cod loin, cut from the thickest part of the filet. This piece is often called the "Captain's Cut", and much to my dismay, it is normally sucked out of the market by the restaurant trade before any of us lowly home cooks can ever get our claws into them. Boo. Yep, we're usually only offered the thinner cuts of flesh from further down the tail of the fish. It's fresh, and still tasty, but it lacks the full flavor and unbeatable texture of the loin cut.
Imagine then, my (almost pant wetting) surprise the other day, when my local fish monger saw me crying at her display of cod and pulled me aside to ask if I'd be interested in some gorgeous, thick loins that had just arrived. The offer was made in a whisper, and anyone catching her furtive side to side glances might have thought that she was offering to sell me some Oxycontin that she had stashed in the walk-in. I didn't hesitate in telling her that I'd love to see her loins (I meant the cod loins, of course), and found them to be magnificent…..thick, milky white, smooth, and firm (hey, get your minds out of the gutter, will you?). I took three pounds, almost all she had available, and moved quickly to the check-out before someone caught-on to my good fortune, and clubbed me for the fish.
A take-away lesson for all of you, my friends, is this……
ALWAYS get to know your local farmer, butcher, fishmonger, baker, and cheese dude (or dudette as it were), and treat them like cherished members of your family. Why? Well, first of all, it's a nice and neighborly thing to do, and it'll make your Mom proud. It will also likely mean that on occasion you'll be treated like a rock star and have access to special items reserved for their best and favorite customers, and that doesn't suck either.
So….gorgeous loins acquired, I wanted to think up a top-notch recipe for highlighting this beautiful cut of fish. I pulled Muppet into the kitchen that night where we whipped up an impromptu pesto with a bunch of basil we had in the fridge, and sliced a few heirloom tomatoes to use as a topping for our treasure. Just before roasting them in a VERY hot oven, we topped each piece with some "Crumbs Yo!" to add a little crunch. We served these beauties with a simple arugula salad and olive oil smashed baby potatoes. There was much rejoicing…..Yay!
Cheers – Steve
- 3 lbs. thick, "Captain's Cut" cod loin (or a lesser piece if you're not lucky at the market) rinsed, patted dry, and cut into 8 even portions
- 2 large ripe tomatoes, cored and sliced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1-cup "Crumbs Yo!
- 3/4 cup Basil Pesto
- Heat the oven to 450°F.
- For the "Crumbs Yo!" - in a saute pan heat 2 tablespoons EVOO over medium heat and toast 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until golden brown. Spread on a plate to cool. Keep for 2 days in the fridge, or a long time in the freezer.
- Spread the tomato slices on a large plate and season with a light sprinkling of kosher salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
- Set the fish on a rimmed, non-stick baking sheet, and drizzle lightly with EVOO. Season with kosher salt and fresh black pepper. Divide the pesto evenly over the fish and top each with one or two tomato slices and a nice coat of the breadcrumbs. Roast until the fish is opaque on the sides and starts to flake, about 8-10 minutes for a thinner piece of cod, 12-16 minutes for a thick cut.