Smoked cod is still available in the fish section of the deli at the supermarket. You just don’t notice it any more. It’s the only fish that has been stocked continuously since the 1950s. I never see anyone buy it. People take numbers and line up for banana prawns and Tasmanian Atlantic salmon and ling and oysters and scallops and that rendered substance they call crab stick, but never the cod.
Further, I’ve never seen smoked cod served outside my own kitchen. It is the world’s only food never to have been served in a restaurant. Nor have I ever encountered smoked cod at a dinner party. Plenty of other smoke; smoked salmon, smoked ricotta, smoked beef, smoked gruyère, smoked eel, and in the old days, smoke itself in a couple of varieties; but smoked cod, no. Most tellingly, my mother, who in 1968, when she had seven children at home aged from brand new to seventeen and used to buy several kilograms of the stuff she called 'Cape Cod' weekly, has not served smoked cod at her table since 1987. Unless she’s doing it covertly.
All of which is a shame, because smoked cod makes an inexpensive, tasty dish that fills the house with a delicious aroma.
Smoked cod and white sauce.
Place two cups of milk in a pan. Add two pieces of smoked cod, a few peppercorns and some snipped parsley stalks. Keep the leaves to add later. Bring almost to a boil then turn down heat immediately. Cook gently for fifteen minutes then carefully remove fish and keep warm. Retain milk for the sauce.
Melt two tablespoons of butter in another pan. Add two tablespoons of flour and stir in, off the heat, until combined. Return to flame. Add the retained milk, slowly. Stir. Add half an onion, very finely chopped. Stir. Add a tablespoon of very finely chopped parsley. All going well, the sauce will thicken. You might need to add more milk. (Note: traditionally a thinner sauce was used for this dish when served around Easter. Play around with quantities to achieve the consistency you prefer. Don’t add salt. Don’t add garlic. There’s enough flavour in the fish. You want a bland sauce for contrast. The parsley is for texture and visual appeal. Even the onion is optional.)
Serve fish, covered in parsley sauce, with green beans and quartered potatoes that have been boiled to the point where they are almost breaking down, like old weathered hills (the way they were served as an accompaniment to the iconic cabbage soup at the gone but not forgotten Scheherezade café in Acland Street). Dust the potatoes with more finely chopped parsley and a little butter.
Serve this at your next dinner party and no-one will know what to drink with it. In fact, no-one will even know what it is.