RECIPES FROM PROJECT
Traditional Newfoundland Fried Cod Tongues in Salt Pork Back Fat with “Scrunchions”!
Fried Cod Tongues. Few Canadians are familiar with the regional food culture of Newfoundland. Few are also aware of just how devastating the Cod Moratorium was to those in that province.then, and now. The effects were and are similar to the death of a nation and a culture. You cannot travel to Newfoundland without being personally and intimately touched by the ever rippling ebb of the moratorium aftermath.
“In 1992 the Canadian Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, John Crosbie, declared a moratorium on the Northern Cod fishery, which for the preceding 500 years had largely shaped the lives and communities of Canada’s eastern coast.” Wikipedia Five hundred years. Generations had been reared through this lifestyle and it was a good, productive, active and happy life.
The “cod tongue” is actually a somewhat gelatinous Y-shaped morsel of flesh from the jaw or throat area of the cod. You are right. Fish do not have tongues. Before the moritorium, for 500 years, locals say the cod was so thick “you could walk across the bay on their backs”.Every fall, during the heavy run of the cod, everyone in a fisher family worked in the business. Children would be up and out with their families at 4-5 in the morning, and as the cod heads would be discarded in bins during the cleaning process, the children would harvest their tongues, save enough for home and sell the rest for a few pennies. Those pennies were important to these young, industrious, hard working little ones that would arrive to school just before noon most days during that season.For some, it was pocket money. For most, it went into the family pot and was an important part of the monthly income. First consumed out of necessity as cod drew such an attractive price, the fishers couldn’t afford to save much of it for themselves. On the plane to Nova Scotia for the Slow Food National Conference in 2014, men from the families of fishers, now oilfield workers heading home to Newfoundland for a break, shared their memories. “We would get 10 to 15 cents a dozen.” They are now a sought after “delicacy” and go for about $10 dollars a pound locally, and sell for $30 dollars a pound at Fin’s in St. Alberta, Alberta. The moritoram is a complicated bit of information to digest or wrap your head around on the Alberta Prairies. Travel to Newfoundland. Take Bruce’s Rugged Boat Tour in Trinity and you will get the full meal deal. Up close and personal. You will understand the far reaching affects of this political decision 34 years later upon the entire culture of that province. This is a Canadian story that is not well understood throughout our vast nation and one that needs an up close and personal look. Weaving this story into my own Canadian cultural identity has been an emotional journey, and I live on the prairies. The Fried Cod Tongue holds a vibrant happy story on the plate and represents the devastating end of an era at the very same time.
A “big ol’ plate of cod tongues” fried in freshly rendered salt pork fat topped with the scrunhions (crispy bits of fat created via the renduring) is most often a Newfoundland treat. A homefood served with homemade mustard pickles and lots of hearty laughs. Vanja and I stayed at The Chef’s Inn in St. John’s which is Todd Perrin’s Bed and Breakfast run by his parents. “I just love ’em!” his mom enthused as she shared many of her favourite local foods with me one morning at breakfast. Above, our first meal at Baccalo in St. John’s. in 2014. Of course, I had to have cod tongues. The meal was delicious. The atmosphere, lovely. My photography, terrible… but the cod tongues? I would say the texture is a cross between calamari and shrimp and the flavour is similar to that of scallops. I also “loved ’em”!
Fried Cod Tongues: In the Kitchen with Emily Mardell from Get Joyfull, mother Joy and daughter Cela
Fried Cod Tongues are not a favourite of Emily Mardell from Get Joyfull. Though a Canadian regional heritage recipe from Newfoundland, it is the families of the fishers that have been brought up on them. And then, others that have grown to love them. Emily’s mother, Joy Burt, also packed a bag of frozen tongues and another bag of salt pork scrunchions into her suitcase for this visit with Emily. I was delighted to spend the day cooking with them both for Project 2017: Valerie Cooking in the Kitchen with You!
Recipes from Project 2017: Cooking with Emily Mardell
Fried Cod Tongues: Preparing the Tongues
Above, right, it the little gelatinous pouch that most remove before frying the tongues. According to Joy, some leave it as they like it, but most remove it as the texture can be unappealing.
For this trip, Joy purchased a bag of pre-cut schrunchions. Oh, yes. Shopping in Bidgood’s at St. John’s NL is as much a cultural experience as hitting the museum, there. They also have a little cafe there where local foods are served. We went twice. The second time with a guide, but it still wasnt’ enough. We didn’t have all the time I needed to cruise down every aisle asking “What is this used for, and this, and this and what is that?” So, you can imagine my joy in cooking with a couple of local Newfoundlanders on this day!
Jelly sacs removed, tongues are ready to flour and fry.
But, first, Joy is seasoning the flour….
Fried Cod Tongues: Rendering the Fat
… and rendering the salt pork fat to fry them in.
Emily is finding a bit more jelly to remove…
Fat rendered, scrunchions removed, good to go!
Fried Cod Tongues: Frying the Tongues
Lookin’ good! The “I’m so proud of my mommy” look on Emily’s face is endearing.
The pan holds the promise of what is to come!
Fresh from the frier: irresistable crisp-fried golden cod tongues.
Fried Cod Tongues: Serving the Tongues
Above, as tradition dictates, topped with the scrunchions, and below, also traditionally served with a homemade mustard pickle.
This pairing was new to my very brief cod tongue experience, but what a pairing. Completely get how these two dishes found one another. I would never again have the tongues without these pickles. And, speaking of my “very brief cod tongue experience”, below the recipe, I will share my very first personally fried cod experience. Be prepared for a good giggle.
Meanwhile, dearest Emily and Joy. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This day was so precious to me. Such a celebration of my own Canadian identity. Though I am not from Newfoundland, I am Canadian. Though I do not own your traditions, I am firmly rooted in my Canadian culture and somehow feel a deep and reverent connection to the regional food cultures within my vast country from coast to coast and am so blessed to get an up close and very person experience, now and then.
I fell an urge to rise up and sing “O Canada!” on many, many occasions. This was definitely one of those days.
Crispy Fried Cod Tongues with “Scruncheons”
Crispy Fried Cod Tongues with “Scruncheons” is a traditional Newfoundland regional Canadian food that spells H-O-M-E to many. The story of the cod tongue is a precious tale from the lost cod fishing culture. The dish is DELICIOUS!
- 2 pounds or 1 kilo thawed or fresh cod tongues, trimmed
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 1/2 pound or 250 grams Salt Pork Back Fat
Dice salt pork back fat into minced cubes; fry on medium low in heavy pan
Rinse tongues under cold water; pat dry and trim off jelly part under tongue
Put seasoned flour in plastic bag; add a few tongues and shake until covered
Remove; place on a plate
Repeat until all tongues are floured
Fry salt pork back fat until crisp and fat is rendered; remove from pan, leaving fat behind to fry tongues
Add floured tongues to pan in small batches; frying until crispy and golden on both sides at medium to medium high heat
Place finished batch on paper towel to drain; fry next batch and continue until all are fried
Season with salt and pepper and serve with reserved fried pork “scruncheons”!
When in Newfoundland, in 2014, Vanja and I brought back so many goodies in our suitcase. One of them was frozen cod tongues. I could not, at that time, find one post online to tell me how to clean or fry them. So, having eating them a few times there, and highly motivated as they were so delicious, I just started cleaning them. I looked at the photos of the fried tongue images I had brought home, and ended up, I discovered via Emily and Joy, peeling them completely. It was definitely time consuming. Similar to peeling and cleaning shrimp, but I thought that is what was done. I have waited to find someone who could teach me how to do them, and finally, I know!
Fried Cod Tongues: Valerie’s First Fried Cod Tongues at home
How do they look? Deee-licious is my answer! I brought a bag of frozen cod tongues home with me from Newfoundland. That was no easy task, as we had a few days left of our holiday in Nova Scotia after flying back from Newfoundland, but it was a must. I had no idea how to prepare these little ditties, but I was going to figure it out.
I have taught myself how to clean and devein shrimp, clean and skin squid – all before the days of the internet, so how daunting could this be?
Do they appear different in any way than Joy’s? Look carefully.
Fried Cod Tongues: Skinning the Tongues
Like oysters, small cod tongues are tastier than the large ones. The ones above, are on the larger size, but believe me. I was happy to get them. We drove all over to find a store open on the Sunday we were flying out that carried cod tongues.
If you are from Newfoundland, you are likely rolling on the floor laughing as you see what I have done, above. First, I completely peeled the skin off of each tongue. I had closely examined the blurry photos I had of fried tongues to try to figure out how they were prepared for frying. And, this was only in 2014. The internet was in its full blown glory, but not an article or an image about how to fry a cod tongue. After skinning them, I removed the gelatinous sac and was left with what looked like I should be left with. A wish-bone shaped bit of flesh to batter ‘n fry.
A nice little pile of tongues – and a little pile of jelly-bellies. What to do with them. I hate wasting anything, and wondered if they were actually the pearl of this oyster as they looked delicious. However, I threw them out. Sadly. Apparently, that is what people do with them. There must be another solution? Broth?
Fried Cod Tongues: Frying the Tongues
Into the seasoned flour they went.
And then, into a mixture of butter and oil. Yup. My frame of reference? Fried fish. Always best in butter. Deep fried squid? In oil. So, I combined the two for the tongues. Had no idea that rendered salt pork back fat was a traditional aspect of the dish, and confess I prefer them fried in butter – but, that is because that is my tradition with fish.
Fried Cod Tongues: Serving the Tongues
Fried food needs a dipping sauce, no? Baccalo’s take on Tartar Sauce was exceptional, but I wasn’t going there. I knew Vanja wouldn’t care for it. What do we both love that would be the perfect marriage with a fried tongue?
Aioli! Yup. Unctuous plus unctuous. A dipping sauce that doubles the pleasure and doubles the fun. No doubt about that. And it was a spectacular pairing. MMMmmmm!
The cod tongues fried in a buttery oil paired with a puckery garlic aoili were deadly delicious. What a delicacy. Very much like a cross between a scallop and a prawn in texture and like a scallop in flavour. Mild. Divine. Worth so much more than the meagre pennies scrounged by the sons of the fishers in Newfoundland’s all too recent days of yore.
But, I could not post this cooking experience, or these photos at the time. What? I had to wait and wait to find out how it was really done. Now? Several posts are “out there” from 2015 onward, yet I had to have my own presonal redo. So, here is is. Put to bed, at last. A great giggle. Great fun. Great food.
Margaret@Kitchen Frau says
Oh my, Valerie. What have you gone and done? Now you’ve totally got my culinary curiosity aroused about these tasty little morsels! I know I won’t rest until I try cod tongues, too. You’ve got me on a mission, fish-lover that I am. Your description reeled me in.
And your words on our Canadian culinary identity touched me, too. I get it. Thank you.
I’m sorry to give a low rating to your recipe as I’m sure it was delicious. I came across your post while waiting for the Cod I caught a few hours ago (then stuffed with savoury dressing) to finish roasting for our supper. Cod tongues were a favourite in our house while I grew up. I’ve been eating them for over 50 years at home and many restaurants and cooking them for 40 in restaurants as well as at home. I have never ever heard of skinning them or cutting out the jelly! A lot of people who do not care for the jelly prefer the small tongues. Others who love the jelly prefer the bigger ones. If you absolutely HATE the jelly you eat Cod cheeks, the flesh is very much the same sans jelly. Cod tongues would be a fast and low labour meal after a day of hard work. The tongues would simply be coated in flour if available, and fried in the pork fat. We always used slices of pork fat called rashers (quicker and easier to slice instead of dice) and after rendering an absolute delight on fresh homemade bread for those too hungry to wait for supper. You render the pork while you flour and season the tongues and peel the potatoes. Start to fry your tongues and start the potatoes to boil. By the time the potatoes are cooked you’ve had enough time to fry 2 pans of tongues. Cooking tip: render your pork in the oven, much less mess! I grew up in the sixties in a fishing village in Bonavista Bay. The ingenuity and frugality, with store bought food especially, was amazing. I have tried to continue those traditions where I can. When our children come home it’s a old fashioned comfort food frenzy at our house!! All that being said, I really enjoyed your post.
Valerie Lugonja says
So wonderful to read such a reflection from you, Margaret! Skinning was an accident, so sad you rated the recipe so low as it will definitely get less people to read it and enjoy it and your own comment – which I so enjoyed. The skinning I did in total oblivian. Removing the jelly does obviously happen in NL as these gals are from there – but admitted that Cod Tongues were not part of their family food as they live near Cornerstone and were never really into them. I LOVE THEM when I was there and I am so happy to hear you pipe in to say how those that don’t enjoy the jelly are missing out. I believe I did say the smaller tongues are the best according to most locals. In any case, I never get enough of hearing Canadian food stories from Canadian folk living in the varying regions of the country and truly enjoyed my time with you today.
Rachel Nguyen says
I am obsessed with cod tongues! I have them every time I visit Newfoundland. The last batch I had were spectacular. The cod were caught on the weekend and we had the tongues the next day, lightly fried in rendered pork fat. Not sure if the jelly was removed, but the large and small ones were equally amazing.
Valerie Lugonja says
The story behind the tongues makes the experience all that more delicious.
The poverty. The work ethic. The cod. THE COD.
The stories of the children – now grown – and so poignant and heartbreakingly sad.
The cod moratorium was a nightmare for not only the Atlantic provinces, but for all of Canada.
These are our people. Cod tongues remain the metaphor – for me – of the voice of so many not heard.