Thursday, May 7, 2015

English Cheddar Cod

     Traditional English Comfort Food!
     Much of England's traditional cooking is comfort food.  I was the chef at an English Pub kitchen for a couple of years.  I ran a special du jour board that featured plenty of regional British Isle food and food items from distant places in the English empire.  The printed menu at the pub offered standard English pub fare, like Steak & Kidney Pie, Mixed Grill and Shepherd's Pie.  Of course the top selling item on weekends was Fish 'n' Chips.  
     The British Isles do not cover a vast land mass area and one can assume that every person on the island knows every traditional English recipe that there is, but this is not really the case.  There are many regional and local English food specialties that outsiders rarely catch wind of.  Cheddar Cod is a good example.  Most of the employees at the pub were from the south tip of the island, Liverpool or Ireland and none of them had ever heard of Cheddar Cod till I ran it as a special du jour one day.  
     Cheddar Cod was a sellout at the pub every time that I ran it as a special du jour.  The recipe is very simple and the gentle flavors provide comfort.  Cheddar Cod is just a casserole of potatoes, butter, cheddar cheese and cod.  As one can imagine, Cheddar Cod is a hearty entrée that is perfect for a clammy cold English day.  This traditional entrée definitely creates a warm and cozy feeling inside!

     Cheddar Cod can be made as a simple layered casserole.  A free standing Cheddar Cod presentation is fairly easy to make with a small pop-ring cake mold.  The free standing version does require a few extra steps.
     English White Cheddar is best for this recipe.  Imported White Cheddar or artisan White Cheddar are not always available.  An extra sharp cheddar like Colby Cheddar is a good substitute.  The orange color of the achiote oil in Colby Cheddar does look nice in Cheddar Cod.  

     Sustainability issues are a prime concern when cod is mentioned.  Atlantic Cod is nearly extinct, so it is best to seek a substitute fish for today's recipe.
     Haddock is low in numbers, so it is not a good substitute for Atlantic Cod anymore.  Pacific Ling Cod have declined in numbers, but Ling Cod has been listed as sustainable in recent years.  Pollock is a good substitute for Cod and Pollock is usually listed as sustainable.  After the cheddar smothers the fish, it is difficult to tell what kind of fish was used to make this entrée.
     At the English pub where I was the chef, the beginning of the end of Atlantic Cod was taking place at that time.  The price per pound quadrupled within 2 weeks and fish mongers stated that the species was overfished.  The owner of the pub did all the purchasing and he was freaking out about the food costs.  The owner was not exactly a chef, so he asked me if there were any cheaper fish in the sea.
     I suggested Pollack, because it tastes like cod and it flakes like cod.  The other reason that I suggested Pollack was because I had recently watched a documentary about modern ocean food chain problems and the information focused on why populations of seals were starving at that time.
     When cod are depleted, Pollack populations greatly increase.  When Pollack is in great numbers, Herring populations decline, because Pollack feed mostly on Herring.  Unfortunately, seals and sea lions also depend on Herring, so when Pollack eats all the Herring, the sea mammals starve.

     I never mentioned the Pollack food chain factor to the pub owner, because at that time the low price of Pollack was like music to his ears.  Ethically, it is not good to mislead customers by substituting one fish for another, but in the case of Atlantic Cod the depletion situation was critical, so from an environmental standpoint it was necessary to do.
     The pub menu actually did not specify what fish species was used to make the Fish 'n' Chips and the customers always assumed that the fish was cod.  We never had a single complaint, because the customers could not tell the difference after the fish was battered and fried.
     I also used Pollack to make the Cheddar Cod entrée.  Because cod was specified in the name of this entrée, the waitstaff was required to disclose that Pollack was the choice of fish to customers.  The entrée was also priced accordingly on the menu at about one fourth of the amount that it would have been if it was made with Atlantic Cod.  A low price in a restaurant is always a humbling factor.
     English Cheddar Cod:
     This recipe yields 1 entrée.
     Check the fish sustainability rating before making a purchase!  Any whitefish can be substituted for the extinct Atlantic Cod in this recipe.  Basa, Swai, Ling Cod and Pollack have been good sustainable options lately.  
     • This recipe can be made the old fashioned way by simple layering the ingredients in a casserole dish.  The free standing style Cheddar Cod presentation described in this recipe requires a few extra steps. 
     • Do not season the casserole with salt and pepper!  The flavors of this casserole are meant to be delicate and the cheddar cheese is the key flavor! 
     Step 1:  Brush a small 5" pop-ring cake mold with melted unsalted butter.
     Place a 1/4" thick layer of thin sliced peeled russet potato on the bottom of the baking mold.
     Place a 3/8" thick layer of thin sliced whitefish over the potatoes.  (about 2 ounces of fish per layer)
     Sprinkle a thin layer of grated sharp cheddar cheese over the cod.  (About 3 tablespoons.  English White Cheddar or Sharp Colby Cheddar is best.)
     Step 2:  Repeat the layering steps, till there are 3 or 4 layers and the pop-ring mold is nearly full.  Make sure that the top layer is thin sliced potato.
     Step 3:  Insert thin potato slices vertically around the edge of the pop-ring mold, so the vertical slices slightly overlap.  (Just slide and tuck the potato slices into place.  (If necessary, use a butter knife like a shoe horn to make enough room to slide potato slices vertically into place.)
     Step 4:  Brush the top layer of sliced potato with melted unsalted butter.
     Step 5:  Cover the casserole with parchment paper or foil.
     Bake the cheddar cod in a 325ºF oven.
     Bake the casserole till the potatoes are almost fully cooked.
     Step 6:  Remove the casserole from the oven.
     Remove the foil or parchment paper.
     Step 7:  Place the cheddar cod back in the oven.
     Bake the casserole till light brown highlights appear on the edges of the top later of potatoes.
     Step 8:  *The cheddar Cod has to be chilled till the ingredients are solid, before un-molding or it will fall apart!
     Set the pop-ring mold on a counter top and let it cool to room temperature.
     Chill the Cheddar Cod to about 50ºF in a refrigerator.

     Free Standing Cheddar Cod Presentation:  
     Step 1:  Reheat the cheddar cod in a 250ºF oven, till it is warmed to 165ºF.
     Place the cheddar cod pop-ring mold on a serving plate.   
     Let the cheddar cod cool to about 140ºF.
     Step 2:  Run a thin bladed paring knife between the potatoes and the wall of the pop-ring mold.
     Remove the the pop-ring mold rim.
     Carefully use a metal spatula to free the Cheddar Cod from base of the pop-ring mold.    
     Step 3:  Serve with buttered peas and sliced mushrooms or a vegetable of your choice!
     Cheddar Cod is simple comfort food at its best!  

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