Fish : Variation on a Theme

Uncommonly good Cod

Even alongside Haddock and Herring, Cod is probably the best known and most widely used fish in Britain today. When fish and chips is spoken of the ‘fish’ is expected to be Cod!

But with long periods of over-fishing and deep trawling the depletion of fish stocks around the British Isles has led to shortages in the shops and, naturally, higher prices. Far from being a cheap and cheerful replacement for meat it has now become a fiscal competitor for inclusion in the weekly menu.

But the public memory is long and the affectionate view of a packet of battered Cod and chips eaten, with greasy fingers, on the beach at the end of a long day of sunshine and frolics is the best food in the world! I can’t honestly say that I’d disagree with that myself.

Be that as it may. The post-war spread and growth of restaurants of all types across the country led to increased diversity. Diversity in product and diversity in presentation. But first the old fears of the illness that fish could cause, by no means unfounded, had to be conquered.

Fish, caught in waters that had suffered centuries of abuse from open sewage and easy waste disposal, had a very dodgy reputation. It was well known that fish could cause many a stomach upset or fever.

These recipes, from the late fifties, show how the increase in interest in fish led to a minor revolution in the British kitchen. Old taboos were dispelled by an improvement in the basic understanding of fish, a better understanding of the sea (or river), the environment in which fish exist. Most of them can be adapted to use other varieties of fish now more commonly available in the shops.

At this time war-time rationing was still in force as was the war-time mind-set that meant that basic ingredients were either scarce or expensive. Things were changing but slowly. Even so, today, the school of thought that ‘simple is best’ is making a return as worldwide economic conditions force fundamental changes in home life purely based on household income.

The dish below, Cod Portuguese, follows the classical line and looks cluttered and messy. Even so the basic idea is sound and with a little refinement in the garnish it would be more than acceptable today.    

I shall be moving on to Haddock shortly, still considered the ‘poorer sibling’ of the cod despite the fact that there is little difference in the market price!

To be continued . . .

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