Gluten-Free Cod Cheeks and Dressing
When the pandemic hit, the first major change we made was to our grocery shopping.
Not being able to go into the grocery store that first month or two, we had to give up on our weekly visit with our favourite fish monger*.
Weekly fish has been one of the benefits to moving back to Canada - back in Minneapolis, we had to make a trek out to a speciality fish shop to be able to get GOOD fish. Here, it’s all good. We’re incredibly spoiled. Anyway...
We found a workaround pretty quickly, in the form of a CSF - Community Supported Fishery. It’s like a CSF box, but you’re pre-ordering fish from small fishermen. Facebook had served up an ad for Skipper Otto, the idea of a CSF intrigued me, and we joined. It’s been fantastic!
This last order window included cod cheeks as an option, and I JUMPED on it. I don’t often see fish cheeks available, so this was going to be a TREAT!
* We were recently reunited, after 5+ months! After the initial “OMGHOWAREYOUHAVEHAVEYOUBEENIVEBEENWORRIED!”, we caught up. It was a nice bit of normalcy!
... but then there was some customer anti-masker nonsense going down in that store the next two times I went in, so I’m back to ordering. We’ve exchanged email addresses now, though!
What are cod cheeks? They’re literally... cod cheeks. Well, meat from the part of the fish that would be considered a “cheek” by human standards, anyway - the meat just below the eye.
While fish cheeks may sound odd, they’re actually considered a delicacy by fishermen and chefs alike. Cod, halibut, grouper, walleye - there are all kinds of fish cheeks available, when you can find them!
The meat is - IMHO - the best meat of the fish. It’s tender, a little sweet... and sort of reminds me of scallops.. Giant, tasty, lovely scallops. Mmm!
There are several popular ways to make cod cheeks:
You can grill them, poach them, crust them with cornmeal and either fry or bake them. Basically, you can treat them like scallops OR like fish fillets/steaks.
Fishermen tend to season them, dredge them in flour, and pan fry them... which is how I was originally intending to serve this batch of cod cheeks, when I ordered them.
... but then I started thinking about the side(s) I was going to serve with it, my mind wandered to Newfoundland dressing.
I decided to give the cod cheeks a gluten-free batter and deep fry them. Kind of weird to work in reverse, deciding on the side and then designing the main around it, but whatever - I was going to make a Newfoundland style fried fish out of it!
“Dressing” in Newfoundland is completely different from what I’d always known as the closest analog to it, growing up in Winnipeg: Stuffing.
Whereas we’d use torn or cut up bread chunks and usually season it with poultry seasoning, in Newfoundland you use actual bread crumbs, not chunks. The primary seasoning for Newfoundland style dressing is summer savoury, not poultry seasoning.
Also, where we’d only have stuffing in conjunction with a roasted chicken or turkey - a holiday thing - “dressing” is an everyday thing in Newfoundland. It’s commonly served with Sunday dinner (which is a *thing* there - a full, traditional roast dinner throughout the year, just on regular Sundays!), but it’s also commonly available as a side dish when ordering restaurant food.
“Fries Dressing and Gravy” is a super popular side item at fast food and fried fish places. It’s just fries and hot gravy, topped with Newfoundland style dressing.
So, when I decided on cooking up some cod cheeks, I decided to honour them properly, with a side of Newfoundland style dressing.
It took me RIGHT back to sitting in The Big R, usually after taking a nice long hike beside the ocean. *Happy sigh*
If you ever get the chance to go to Newfoundland, get ON it. That’s all I’m saying. I haven’t been back since our honeymoon in 2006, and - if I close my eyes - I can still smell the salty ocean air and feel the Cape Spear wind on my face.
I LOVE Summer Savoury. I’d never had it before going to Newfoundland a couple decades ago, but I quickly fell - hard - for it.
Somehow, despite having had no experience with it at all before that point, it just “tasted like Thanksgiving”.
Never mind that it tasted literally nothing like anything I’d ever had at Thanksgiving, mind you. Brains are weird sometimes.
Anyway, my favourite brand is Mt Scio Savoury, which is grown in Newfoundland.
I don’t know if they’re actually better than everything else out there, or if it’s another case of “this is the first I had, so it is my default”... but it IS noticeably different than the stuff I could get in the USA (Usually from Penzeys). I’d routinely get friends to bring some back with them, when returning to the USA from a trip home.
Savoury is something I usually measure by the handful, at least when I’m not doing a recipe up for the blog. A handful in pea soup, a couple handfuls in chicken or turkey soup, a handful or so in a batch of gravy, toss another handful over roast poultry or pork... whatever.
It’s great stuff!
Here are a few recipes that feature it, in case you need more of an excuse to buy some for this:
Oh, this was fantastic, The gluten-free batter was crispy and flavourful, without retaining too much grease. The cod cheeks were tender and lovely - definitely worth the wait to find them!
This was actually my husband’s first time having fish cheeks, he really liked how soft, tender, and mild it was - he was surprised at how right I was, describing it like a scallop.
Also, if you're interested in gluten-free cooking and baking, you should definitely check out my gluten-free cookbooks: Beyond Flour: A Fresh Approach to Gluten Free Cooking & Baking, and the sequel... Beyond Flour 2. You can order them right here on my website, through Amazon, or through any major bookseller.
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Fan of Canadian cooking? You'll love the fantastic Canadian recipes in my cookbook, "More Than Poutine: Favourite Foods from my Home and Native Land”. "More than Poutine" is a Canadian cookbook like no other - written by a Canadian living away, it includes both traditional home cooking recipes, as well as accurate homemade versions of many of the snacks, sauces, convenience foods, and other food items that are hard to come by outside of Canada! Order your copy here on this site, through Amazon, or through any major bookseller!