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New England Cornmeal-Crusted Cod Cheeks

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Cornmeal fried cod cheeks

Cornmeal fried cod cheeks

Hank Shaw
Cod cheeks. They are what you think. These little morsels of goodness are from the jaws of cod and haddock, or halibut in the Pacific. They are a fisherman's friend, as traditionally they would eat the cheeks and sell the rest of the fish. Simply breaded or battered, cod cheeks are a must-have when in New England. This recipes jazzes up a classic with a garlic-basil dipping sauce. Figure on 3-5 cheeks per person for a starter, double that for a main course.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb cod or halibut cheeks
  • 1 cup fine or medium-grind cornmeal
  • 1 t. powdered cayenne
  • 1 T. black pepper
  • Salt
  • 1 cup olive oil (not the good stuff)
  • 1-3 chopped garlic cloves
  • 1 cup basil leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 T. mustard
  • Oil for frying

Preparation:

Make the sauce. In a food processor, add a pinch of salt, the basil, garlic and mustard. Buzz until well mixed, then begin adding the olive oil in a slow drizzle to complete the sauce. The mustard will help keep it from breaking, but if it does, no big deal: Simply stir it vigorously right before you serve.

Mix the cornmeal with the cayenne and the black pepper.

Heat a heavy skillet and enough oil -- I like canola oil for frying -- to come up the sides of the pan about a 1/4 inch. Do this over medium-high heat.

Salt the cod or halibut cheeks well, then dredge in the cornmeal. Shake off any excess and fry in the oil. Do not crowd them; cook in batches if you need to. Put the cooked cheeks on a plate with a paper towel on it in a warm oven.

You will need about 3-4 minutes per side on these -- you are looking for that golden brown. Turn down the heat to medium if they are cooking too fast.

Serve with the dipping sauce on the side. As for a drink, I like to have a beer with this...or better yet, a glass of champagne, prosecco or other sparkling white wine.

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