Without any more fuss about the matter, here’s the recipe. Use the tail cuts and belly portions of the cod for this dish. (Save the loins for the frying pan!) Fresh is best but frozen is okay, too, especially if it’s February and you just remembered you have cod in the freezer that your brother-in-law dropped off to you in July. If you don’t have savoury, then marjoram, dill, and tarragon all make good substitutes.
The stock in this recipe is optional, but it adds great depth to the sauce. Besides, it's great to use the bones and head instead of just tossing them out. Just remember to remove the gills. To make the stock, heat water in a small or medium saucepan to a gentle boil and place in the head, bones, and trimmings as if you're poaching them. Add a few roughly cut aromatics like carrot, celery, onions, leeks, or fennel. There should be just enough water to cover the ingredients. Parsley, bay leaf, peppercorn, garlic, and thyme also make nice additions. Be creative. Let it all steep, almost boiling, without mixing, for 20 minutes. Strain slowly and avoid dumping it all at once into through a mesh strainer. You only need ½ cup for this recipe, so keep the leftover stock for later use. Frozen it will keep for up to 6 months. This is a great way to use up a cod’s head, which, many argue, contains the most flavour in the entire fish. Use about 300 g (10 ½ oz) of vegetables for every 1 kg (2 ½ lbs) of fish bits.
Check out this post for more about the Newfoundland food fishery and about the history of the humble fish that changed the world.
Cod au gratin
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Place the milk and cream in a medium saucepan and heat until almost boiling. Remove from the heat and set aside. Warm up the fish stock and set aside. Meanwhile, in another medium saucepan, melt the butter and add the flour, whisking until all the lumps are gone. Slowly, add the hot milk mixture to the butter mixture, whisking all the while to achieve a smooth consistency. Add the fish stock, dijon mustard, savoury, ½ tsp salt, and a good grind of pepper and whisk until it thickens into a nice sauce, about 3 minutes. This is your white sauce. Taste it and add salt and pepper to taste, if desired.
Arrange the cod in the bottom of a gratin or casserole dish. The dish should be large enough that about two layers of cod are evenly spread out with an inch to spare from the rim. Next, pour over three-quarters of the white sauce and add the grated cheddar and parmesan. Finally, mix the bread crumbs with 1 tbsp olive oil and evenly spread the crumb mixture on top.
Bake for 45 minutes, then broil for an addition 2 minutes, watching the crust so it doesn’t burn. It’s ready when it’s bubbling around the sides and the top is golden brown.
Let it cool for an hour before serving. Serve on plates or shallow bowls with a spoonful of the remaining reheated sauce and a few sprigs of fresh parsley.
I'm Erik, the Burnt Chef. I'm a Finnish-born Newfoundlander living in Norway. I have a passion for cooking and a deep fascination for the culinary history of the North. Simplicity guides my cooking. Time, place, and history guide my storytelling. This is my personal blog about food.