Cod are voracious and omnivorous predators, they’ll eat anything from mussels and clams to lobsters and other cod. Fully-grown adults can reach sizes of 2m in length and weigh up to 100kg. However, heavy fishing over the past few hundred years means very few make it to that size any longer.
They have tell-tale whiskers and their lateral line is visible as a white stripe running the length of their body.
Cod have been fished commercially for centuries. The Basques were making the trip over the Atlantic to the Grand Banks long before America was "discovered". They were easy to catch and stocks seemed to be inexhaustible. Their large size and sessile nature have made cod tempting targets for trawlers and as a result, the "inexhaustible" cod stocks of the North Sea and the Grand Banks of the Western Atlantic have plummeted.
While management plans are in place for the North Sea and the stocks are beginning to recover, do not equate the increase in stock size to be an indicator of it reaching sustainable levels. We're at the bottom of the hockey stick, improving, but with a way to go yet... Most of the cod we eat in the UK is imported from Norway and Iceland, where stocks are well managed and fished according to scientific advice.
The good news is that their population in the English Channel is still stable. Historically, the Channel never really had much cod, but there's lots there now. Most fishermen run out of their quota early in the new year though. It's well managed and we're happy to eat it when our fishermen catch it.
Cod, and dried, salted cod in particular, has been a European staple for centuries. Any trip to coastal Portugal or Spain wouldn't be complete without bacalao. Go up to the highlands of Scotland and you may be lucky enough (depending on your point of view) to try Crappin-Muggie, which is a type of sausage made of cod liver, stuffed in a cod stomach. Yummers. And the Greeks eat cod tripe.
While you might not have tried these more exotic versions, we’ve all eaten cod in some form or another. Their smooth flaky flesh has kept them on English menus for hundreds of years. It's the perfect fish for the unadventurous. We think they do well from a bit of added texture, whether it’s in the form of the classic crispy batter, or a simple breadcrumb crust to add a bit of substance.
If it's smoked cod you're after, head to our smoked fish page.