Top News

Cynthia Stone: A tale of caplin and cod

Bakedcod with fresh tomato lime butter
Bakedcod with fresh tomato lime butter

Have you been waiting for the caplin because you like caplin or because you want a decent feed of cod? Either way they’ve finally made an appearance and it’s time to celebrate one of our oldest traditions.

Fried Caplin

I’ve baked, broiled, poached and fried but there is only one choice for me and mine. Gutting optional, coating in flour desirable, fried crisp and golden brown essential.

Allow about four caplin per serving, although it’s really about cooking what you have and eating them.

Fried small fish caplin and sliced lemon

16 fresh caplin
1 tsp. each salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup vegetable oil

I’ve eaten a ton of caplin guts, but I prefer the flavour of cleaned fish. Cut off the heads just below the gills. Using a sharp knife or a pair of kitchen shears cut down the centre line of the belly just under the skin about two inches.

For females, be careful not to dislodge the egg sac — it is a delicacy that should be enjoyed only by those who appreciate it. Everyone else gets the males.

Gently reach in and pull out the innards and discard. Trim away the largest of the fins. Rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

Whisk salt and pepper into flour and dredge caplin. Shake off the excess. Get the oil shimmering hot in a large frying pan and gently lay in the fish. Fry about 5 minutes on the first side, until crispy and golden brown. Flip and fry a little less on the second. Larger males might take a minute longer.

Drain on paper towels and serve with a squeeze of lemon juice, mustard pickles and lots of buttered bread.

Baked Cod with Fresh Tomato Lime Butter
A piece of fresh cod right out of the water demands the most reverential treatment in the kitchen. The delicate flesh melts in your mouth and hardly needs adornment. The simple compound butter in this recipe enhances rather than masks the flavour of the fish and is exactly the accompaniment you want for that first fresh bite of the season.

You need only a little to serve with the fish but I make enough to have plenty leftover. My second meal using this fantastic condiment is grilled or boiled corn, rolled in the tomato butter then coated in Parmesan cheese.

Use only a ripe tomato for this recipe, and you really need to peel it—sorry. Cut a shallow X in the bottom then dunk it in boiling water for a few seconds. Rinse in cold water then lift the corners of the X away and the skin will come right off. You also don’t want any of the tomato juice, so cut off the piece you will mince for the butter, squeeze it firmly then pat it dry with a paper towel.

Fresh parsley is my herb of choice because it is so mild in flavor but feel free to substitute dill, tarragon, thyme or cilantro if you prefer. You can skip the jalapeno—I like the little added zing.

You might notice there is little salt added. With really fresh fish salted butter is nearly all you need. If you add too much to the cod in the baking dish it will leach out quite a lot of moisture.

Allow at least 6 ounces of fish per person.

Compound Butter:

1/2 cup soft butter, not margarine
2 tbsp. minced fresh tomato, peel removed; reserve the rest of the tomato
1/2 jalapeno pepper, minced, optional
1 tbsp. minced fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tsp. finely grated lime zest
1/2 tsp. fresh lime juice

 

Cod:

1-1/2 lb. freshest cod fillet, skin removed

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 tsp. salt

Prepare the compound butter first. With a fork, mash the butter together with the tomato, jalapeno pepper, parsley and lime zest. Work in the lime juice. If you aren’t using the mixture within an hour refrigerate, but be sure to bring it back to room temperature before using. Reserve the rest of the fresh lime to serve with the fish.

For the cod, arrange in a single layer in a baking dish big enough so it is not too crowded. Sprinkle the pepper and salt evenly over the top. With the rest of the tomato not used for the butter, squeeze the life out of it all around the fish. You just want that lovely flavoured water and seeds from the middle.

Cover and bake at 400 degrees F 30 minutes or until it is steaming hot and the thickest part flakes easily with a fork. The time will vary depending on the thickness of the fillet so start checking at 20 minutes if it is on the thin side.

Serve with a spoonful of compound butter right on top. I like to use a soup bowl, pour the juice from the baking dish all around the fish and add crisp green vegetables to the bowl. You can save the cooking liquid for cod au gratin if you have lots of fish left—a rare occurrence in my house.

Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. E-mail questions to her at cynthia.stone@nf.sympatico.ca.

Recent Stories