The Endearing Rock
On a visit to Newfoundland in late summer, 2019, I was blown away by the natural beauty of the place and the amazing people that call “the rock” home.
The land and climate can be harsh here and the surrounding waters unforgiving. Those that have toughed it out are some of the friendliest, hospitable and fun-loving folks you’ll find. Newfoundlanders, many with ancestry traced back to Ireland, have some unique traditions and good-natured ways. There’s the lilting dialect spoken, accented with cute and quirky phrases. Then there’s the kitchen parties and screeching in ceremonies for “come from aways” (visitors).
With most of the island’s communities located on bays along its rugged shoreline there is a close connection to the sea. The nearby rich fishing grounds of the Northwest Atlantic are the main reason these towns were settled centuries ago. Cod fueled the island economy for generations until overfishing collapsed the fishery in 1992.
Nowadays, the managed fishery sets seasons and catch limits for both commercial and recreational fishers. The season typically runs from July to October. The fish population in the region has not yet returned to historic levels but you will still find fresh cod in many local eateries when in season. You’ll find fish and chips on the menu from dockside food trucks in quaint Quidi Vidi to pubs overlooking majestic Bonne Bay. Note, “fish” here is used synonymously with cod.
For a change, you’ll want to try the Newfoundland specialty, Cod au Gratin. Its posh sounding title is fitting, as its baked in a rich creamy sauce and topped with melted cheese. I was impressed with how delicious fresh cod can be. It’s a real winner among white fleshed fish as it easily cooks up tender, flakey, plump, and slightly sweet.
Cod au Gratin – Newfoundland Style
- 3 or 4 au gratin dishes (oven proof serving dishes), mixing bowl, whisk, saucepan
- 2 lbs fresh cod fillets
- ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ tsp lemon pepper
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- ½ tsp thyme
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 2 cups grated cheddar cheese
- ¾ cups breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Rinse the fish, remove any bones and cut fillets into roughly 3-inch segments.
- Grease the au gratin dishes then place the fish segments into the dishes.
- Sprinkle the fish with Parmesan cheese and lemon pepper seasoning. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan, whisk in the flour and cook for about 2 minutes.
- Gradually add the milk and whisk constantly until the sauce begins to thicken.
- Stir in the mustard, thyme and salt.
- Pour the sauce over the fish in the au gratin dishes then top with cheddar cheese.
- In a mixing bowl, toss the breadcrumbs with the olive oil.
- Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the cheese and bake for 30 minutes or until the fish has fully cooked and the topping has browned.
Suggested side dish
Oven Roasted Gourmet Potatoes – When serving Cod au Gratin I like to take advantage of the 350 F oven to bake a tray of those little gourmet potatoes. Use the same bowl that you tossed the breadcrumbs in, add a dash more oil, a little salt then toss the potatoes (whole) to coat them in the salt and oil. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cook alongside the fish for 30 mintues. I like to dip the potatoes in the cream sauce in the au gratin dish.