The problem with black cod, and there is only one problem, is that it has a set of bones that are nearly impossible to pull using the typical tweezer method. I discovered this a while ago when first preparing it for a dinner party event. I was on-site in the kitchen. There were 16 eager ladies awaiting dinner after a full day of wine tasting. It was the appetizer course. There I was frantically trying to get these awful tiny bones out of this fish with no give. Eventually, I waved my white flag and simply chopped that portion of the fish completely off. I frustratingly tossed those pieces out when I should have, in fact, saved them for Chef’s dinner. Or at the very least, stock.
Other than the bones, black cod is a beautiful piece of fish. White and tender with large flakes. Its beyond buttery which makes it so forgiving. Now that I know what I am getting into when it comes to breaking it down, it’s a staple in my seafood course arsenal.
While you can, pan sear the filet whole with skin-on and serve it to guests, I prefer not to have to say, here is your first course, please watch out for bones! I’m also not going to stand there and remove the bones afterwards while the dish gets cold. This may have something to do with my culinary competition days. There was one occasion where I let a bone slip. There was someone else de-boning the fish with me, but I am 99% sure that it was my fault. He was the appetizer course fish guy. I was on the entrée and more focused on assembling chicken terrines and brining beef tongues. My bad. At least a judge didn’t get it. If I remember correctly, I think it was someone from the fish guy’s family. Sorry, James!
Back to the black cod. The most popular dish I use it for is a seafood appetizer course. It’s seared and sits on a bed of celery root puree topped with a corn relish. Three bell pepper sauces surround it with a touch of crème fraiche. Its skin, which is cooked separately, is placed on top.
Let me break it down for you. Remove the skin. This is easier to show than tell, so here is a video I found. Reserve the skin. Using your fingertips, find the bones that sit in between the filet and the belly portion. Use a filet knife to follow those bones down and remove that portion. They tend to curve a bit outward which is nice because it leaves more fish for your portions. Then remove the bones from the belly portion trying to save as much belly as possible. Reserve the belly for another use, preferably yourself. Like most animals, the belly portion is one of the best. Ever had tuna belly or “toro”? It’s like that, only different. You know, because it’s black cod, not tuna.
Now you have your de-boned portions and you can do whatever you’d like with them. I highly recommend crisping the skin in between two sheets of parchment with a little cooking oil. Place another sheet pan on top to keep them from curling and bake at about 375 until crispy. Use them as garnish or just snack on them like fish chicharrons or crackling. You should save the bone portions too and use them for stock or a sauce. Or discard them if you must. Just don’t tell the food-waste activists.
And lastly, a little bit about black cod as a fish. It’s not truly a “cod.” It’s a sablefish and sometimes called a butterfish (go figure). I get mine from Dry Dock Fish Co. which is based out of Fullerton, CA. I am out in Temecula, but luckily, they deliver to me when they set up at the farmers markets here twice a week. Plus, they are all about fresh, wild, and sustainable seafood. You should check them out if you are local.
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