scrod (which refers to young cod or haddock)
Cod is a mild-flavored, firm, flaky white fish local to both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Due to overfishing, Atlantic cod populations are severely depleted, while Pacific cod fisheries are small but sustainably managed.
Cod ranges widely in size. Most cod is sold as fillets, though you can buy smaller specimens whole. With the exception of grilling (for which it is too delicate), it takes well to all kinds of cooking methods. When salted and dried, it becomes salt cod.
Salt-dried cod goes by many names in western Europe, where it’s a staple: it’s bacalhau in Portugal, baccalà in Italy, bacalao in Spain, and morue in France.
The story behind its popularity is one for the history books, but the short version is this: Take the high demand for fish due to the large number of meatless days in the Catholic calendar, add the discovery of a vast supply of cod in the waters off Newfoundland and the need to preserve the fish for transport to Europe, and it’s easy to see how salt cod became so important.
Preservation aside, salt-drying improves the flavor and texture of the otherwise bland codfish, making it flaky and toothsome. Famous salt cod dishes include brandade de morue (a salt cod, garlic, and olive oil spread from Provence), bacalao con patatas (Spanish potatoes baked with salt cod), and bacalao al pil pil (Basque salt cod in an emulsified garlic and oil sauce). In Portugal, pastéis de bacalhau—salt cod fritters—are ubiquitous. If you have leftover salt cod from making the fritters, the chowder at right is a great way to use it up.
Some supermarkets carry salt cod—look for it in the seafood section, near the smoked salmon. Stored in a zip-top bag in the fridge, it’ll keep for a year or more. Regardless of what you’re making, you’ll need to first rinse and soak it in several changes of cold water for 12 to 36 hours to rehydrate it and remove enough salt to make it palatable. After soaking, give it a quick simmer in water or milk until it’s soft enough to flake, remove the skin and bones, and it’s ready to use.
You can substitute any other mild white fish, such as haddock,sole, and flounder, though thickness of the fillets and flavor will vary somewhat.
When buying skin-on fillets, look for intact skin and make sure the scales were properly removed. Most fish skin is edible and delicious, especially when cooked until crisp.
When shopping for fish, freshness is key. Try to buy fish on the day you plan to cook it, and seek out the freshest fish your market has to offer. Don’t be shy about asking to examine the fish closely. Here’s what to look for:
Pat the fillets dry before cooking.
Rinse the fish well inside and out. Pat it thoroughly dry, wrap it in paper towels, and store it in a plastic bag in the coldest part of the refrigerator. To slow down spoilage, try this:Put whole fish or fillets in a large strainer set over a bowl. Pile ice high on top of the fish and refrigerate. The ice keeps the fish close to 32°F, and as it melts, the water continually rinses off bacteria and drains it into the bowl. Or put the cod in a plastic bag and set the bag on ice to maintain a temperature close to 33°F (spoilage occurs twice as fast at 40°F as it does at 32°).