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Russell Wangersky: For the love of cod

Fish and Chips.
When it comes to fish and chips, Russell Wangersky argues, nothing but cod will do. — SaltWire Network file photo

This is not a column that will topple governments.

No resignations will occur, no apologies will be forthcoming, nor is the universe likely to tip on its axis and alter all life as we know it, leaving sentient amphibians as the planet’s most dominant lifeform.

Russell Wangersky
Russell Wangersky

But sometimes, a thought occurs to me that I just can’t shake.

This time, it’s a battered thought.

A crisp, golden, delicious, unhealthy thought, nestled in a bed of thick-cut chips.

And while I realize this will do nothing for Atlantic Canadian unity, I’m ready for a fight on this one.

I’m just back from a few days working in the Maritime provinces, living the life of the suitcase traveler. In Truro for breakfast, Charlottetown for lunch, reading choices from laminated menus and driving the wiggly winding road north to the Brule Shore.

And during my travels, I suffered one of the familiar disappointments of the Maritime road trip.

I’m talking fish and chips.

But not what I’m used to.

You’re in the restaurant, you’ve made your order quickly because you haven’t got that long until you have to be back driving. You haven’t read the fine print.

And then, there’s the disquiet of the approaching plate, the distinct and suddenly familiar scent.

Sure, there’s the requisite crispy brown batter. Fries and ketchup.

But you press your fork through the outside shell of the crispy coating, no matter how carefully the fish is done and the batter is prepared, and there it is.

Haddock.

Maritime menus trumpet it as a choice for fish and chips, but for the life of me, I don’t know why.

Haddock is the type of fish that the sharp creamy bite of tartar sauce was clearly designed to overwhelm. A fish that deserves to be smoked into submission.

Now, haddock may be a member of the cod family (one of the Gadidae, the true cods), but it most assuredly isn’t cod.

It’s oilier, it’s mushier, it’s strong-tasting and, frankly, it’s a downright fish and chips disappointment. There’s that mysterious fishy grey line that seems to run the length of every fillet, with its particular dankness. The lack of real bright-white flakes of fish that are cod’s trademark.

Haddock is the type of fish that the sharp creamy bite of tartar sauce was clearly designed to overwhelm. A fish that deserves to be smoked into submission.

Now, I realize that residents of Newfoundland and Labrador are particular about their fish and chips; I can remember fish-and-chip places putting up signs on the front doors to warn potential customers that they only had frozen cod (in case the customers wanted to turn around and go somewhere else instead). But when I order fish and chips on the mainland, my first bite of haddock is inevitably a massive disappointment.

I grew up in Nova Scotia, and I spent three years living in New Brunswick, so this is not some kind of hometown snobbishness. It’s a fact.

Feel free to write and tell me I’m wrong — though, deep down, if you’ve had cod in your fish and chips, you know I’m right.

You other Atlantic provinces may have a real spring. You may have dependable summer weather where hot, languid sunny days are followed by more hot, languid sunny days.

You may never have encountered the mysterious and hope-crushing wonder of a June snow flurry, or the close familiarity of the nine-day ceaseless fog.

But we’ve got cod in our fish and chips.

And there’s really no comparison.

I’ll listen to any arguments you might want to throw my way, even if they leave me battered (pardon the pun) and bruised. If you think haddock’s the better choice, tell me why.

But if you want real fish and chips, you just might want to have it in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 39 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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