Set the Net: balsamic glazed Bering Sea Cod on butterhead lettuce

Jan 19, 2017

This cod marinade and creamy balsamic dressing stem from the same base and build a cohesive dish of fresh, locally grown and harvested Alaskan ingredients that can brighten up even the chilliest winter day!

Credit Susie Jenkins-Brito

Susie Jenkins-Brito authors a food blog focused on local fare and hosts a twice monthly show on KDLG called "Set the Net: Recipes Inspired by Life in Bristol Bay." Follow her at www.setthenet.com and email any food questions, subsistence stories, or recipe queries to setthenet@gmail.com.

It is frigidly cold outside currently in Bristol Bay with the temperature dipping below -15 degrees Fahrenheit as I write this, my breath freezing in the air as I went to retrieve fish from our outside freezer earlier. Many mornings the branches of the trees in our yard have been heavy with hoar frost as the sun peaks through, glistening throughout the day as the gradually later sunsets January has brought for us fade to brilliant orange across the skyline. It has been bluebird skies out for what feels like weeks with the sun glinting off the ice yet imparting no warm to the ground below, despite this cold - my plate is filled with fresh locally grown greens. An anomaly in a town where come winter we have previously relied solely upon air cargo flights to stock our local groceries produce sections, but one trip to Belleque Family Farm has my fridge full of chard, butterhead lettuce, basil, dill, and spinach.

The Belleque family of Dillingham has embarked on a hydroponic growing endeavor this past year that has the three grocery stores of Dillingham, one in King Salmon, and one in Togiak stocked with fresh greens as they are available, they are even making deliveries to the Dillingham City School District for a weekly school lunch salad.

Credit Susie Jenkins-Brito

I stopped by their house late last week to peek at their garden. Contained within a 20 foot shipping container that has been retrofitted with long trays circulating nutrient rich water to individual plants under sunlight lamps, the farm is growing an assortment of herbs and greens. Transfixed by Kyle's excited for the operation and all he has been able to accomplish in such a short amount of time, I checked out his staple crops of romaine & butterhead lettuces, chard, basil, dill, and kale, plus the assortment of Asian greens he is growing including bok choy, tatsoi, & mizuna which he describes using in a salmon stir fry that is pack with fresh flavors. (a post for another day perhaps!) 

Belleque Family Farm is a wonderful example of technology paring with hard earned agricultural knowledge. Kyle has many plants currently regenerating from being trimmed, maximizing efforts and reducing waste a staple he says of the small time farmer. He is an experimenter with crops not likely to make it to market like the lemongrass growing in single sprigs lining a small portion of a top row - I joked that lemongrass may someday be an ingredient in the Bay's most expensive smoothie ever. But other gambles have paid off, his dill is enormous with the fennel and basil not far behind. Kyle encourages local foodies to contact him at home through their Facebook page to access the herbs he has that aren't lining store shelves just yet such as thyme, sage, & lovage.

In 2017 the Alaska longline, pot, and trawl fleets will continue harvesting Pacific cod throughout the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea in which Bristol Bay is located. While most Bristol Bay residents can’t independently access the offshore Pacific cod stocks our Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation (BBEDC) owns Bering Sea cod quota that is mostly harvested via longliners. These fishermen began chugging away on January 1st and will continue to fish throughout the course of the year. BBEDC's four Alaskan Leader vessels harvest the majority of BBEDC's cod and through their sales arm sell it globally. The revenue generated from this fishery's quota and others go to support the Bristol Bay region through the grants BBEDC offer's its 17 CDQ community's local residents. These grants fund everything from community infrastructure to local salmon fleet commercial fishing vessel improvements to education, employment, and training opportunities. The community development quota program began in 1992 and continues to grow in the impacts they make in near shore communities of Western Alaska. In recent years small boat 4E halibut longline fishermen have harvested a bit of allowable Pacific cod bycatch that I have been fortunate enough to receive some of and it shines in this garlic rich balsamic glaze. 

This cod marinade and the creamy balsamic dressing stem from the same base and build a cohesive dish of fresh Alaskan ingredients that can brighten up even the chilliest winter day!

Balsamic glazed Bering Sea Cod on a bed of butterhead lettuce from Belleque Family Farm + a creamy balsamic dressing serves 4-6

You'll need:

  • 2 lbs Wild Alaska Cod, cut into 4-6 individual portions

for the marinade and creamy balsamic dressing

  • 10 cloves of garlic, minced finely or crushed
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 large handful of fresh basil leaves, minced finely (Belleque Family Farm)
  • 4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dijion mustard
  • 1 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • fresh ground pepper to taste

for the salad

  • 1 head of butterhead lettuce, chopped (Belleque Family Farm)
  • 10 leaves of chard, chopped (Belleque Family Farm)
  • a handful of fresh basil (Belleque Family Farm)
  • 3 Alaska Grown carrots, diced
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 1 avocado, sliced thin
  • 1 large bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 1/2 red onion, sliced thin

To make:

For the marinade and dressing you will begin in one large bowl and divide before the finish. Whisk together the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, basil, salt, sugar, & pepper. Divide the mixture in two equal parts and whisk the mayonnaise into one dish to create the creamy dressing, then set aside for the salad. Pour the remaining balsamic mixture into a shallow baking dish and place your cod portions into the glaze flesh side down to marinade for approximately 10-15 minutes.

While marinading the cod, toss your salad and then plate a large bed of greens for each cod portion to rest upon once seared.

To sear the cod, lightly oil a cast iron or heavy bottomed pan over medium heat until evenly warmed and place the cod flesh side down onto the pan. Cook 3-4 minutes until the cod is browned and the glaze caramelizes. Flip and continue to cook for another 2-3 minutes until just done. The cod will continue to cook a bit once removed from heat so err slightly on the side of caution. You will know its down when lightly flaked it reveals a uniform moist white flesh.

Top the waiting salad greens with a chunk of the seared cod and drizzle with the creamy balsamic dressing for a light satisfying meal.

Susie Jenkins-Brito authors a food blog focused on local fare and hosts a twice monthly show on KDLG called "Set the Net: Recipes Inspired by Life in Bristol Bay." Follow her at www.setthenet.com and email any food questions, subsistence stories, or recipe queries to setthenet@gmail.com.