Cod is one of North America's greatest traditional natural resources. It used to be one of our most bountiful fishes, and early reports claimed (hyperbolically) that one could walk across Boston harbor on the backs of cod. A carving of a "sacred codfish" still hangs in the Boston statehouse.
Cod is what drew Vikings and even Basque fishermen to our northern shores, where the fish had long been eaten by native Americans.
Now, cod has been radically overfished, and the World Wildlife Federation has classified it as "endangered," reporting a 70% drop in the cod population over the past 30 years.
In the North Atlantic, even in Newfoundland, once a major center of cod production, the Canadian government has radically restricted cod fishing in hopes that the stocks will regenerate.
One area of American resources management that should make us proud is in our management of fish. The United States generally follows rules of engagement with seafood that are routinely ignored in many other parts of the world, and it seems a sincere attempt is being made in the United States to harvest fish in a way that will ensure the species remain sustainable.
There are a number of local seafood vendors that are committed to using sustainable seafood, and one of those is Supreme Lobster in Villa Park. Supreme furnishes the cod at Fatduck, and we were very pleased with a platter of the fried fish we had at that Forest Park gastropub last week.
Fatduck sells a lot of fried cod, and that's a good thing: the cod offered at Fatduck, our server told us, is fresh, not frozen, and we loved the thin shell of fried breading. It's a very bad thing when the breading outweighs the protein it surrounds, and the coating on the cod at Fatduck was just thin enough to separate the fish from the frying oil and add a touch of crispness to the mild-flavored fish.
The cod at Fatduck is a big seller (and not just on Fridays). It's served with house-made tartar sauce, which is almost always better than the stuff that comes in a jar, and chips (fries).
Cod is a mild-flavored fish, with much less "personality" than, say, the very popular salmon or tuna. I like it, however, because though it's not assertive, it's been an honored player in our American culinary heritage. I eat it in much the same way that the Taiwanese eat stinky tofu or French Canadians eat poutine: proudly.
Fatduck Tavern and Grill
7218 Madison Street, Forest Park