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From local waters to menus, cod on the rise

Rey Dedeios from Queens holds up a cod

Rey Dedeios from Queens holds up a cod fish he caught aboard the Fish'n Xpress III at the dock in Montauk Friday afternoon, after a twelve hour cod fishing trip. (Feb. 4, 2011) Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Not only is cod more plentiful in local waters, it's showing up on more local menus.

"Our cod sales are up about 15 percent from last year," said Bill Mieschberger, who sells fish to restaurants for the Westbury-based seafood wholesaler Gra-Bar Fish. Mieschberger, a lifelong fisherman and former fish retailer, said that although cod has traditionally been "the poor man's white fish," now he's selling it to more "white-tablecloth restaurants."

Mieschberger said chefs are turning to local cod as an alternative to more-expensive white-fleshed fish. Gra-Bar's wholesale price for cod is around $9 - a good $6 cheaper than halibut. "And we've hardly been able to buy swordfish or tuna for the last month - the prices are too high."

Gra-Bar is selling local cod to, among others, Nautilus in Freeport, CoolFish in Syosset and Sole in Oceanside.

Cod is pan-roasted and sent out with pecorino sauce and white beans at Jack Halyards in Oyster Bay; Riverbay in Williston Park serves cod in lobster broth, with chorizo, shellfish and potatoes. Rowdy Hall in East Hampton uses cod in its popular fish and chips - the dish where you're most likely to find cod in Nassau and Suffolk.

Salt cod - cod that has been cured with salt and must be soaked in fresh water to bring it back to kitchen-ready life - is a staple at Portuguese restaurants such as Fado in Huntington, where it's roasted and shredded in the traditional fashion, or at Piri Piri in Mineola, which ups the ante with bacalhau asado, or grilled salt cod with roasted peppers and boiled potatoes. Salt cod gets the French treatment at Bar Frites in Greenvale, where it is whipped with potatoes into brandade de morue.

Bill Mieschberger is always happy to take a couple of cod fillets home. He dredges the skin side in seasoned flour, then sears that side in an oiled skillet until it is crisp. Then he strews the top of the fillets with sliced scallions and fresh ginger, covers the pan, and cooks until the fish just turns opaque. (A glass lid is helpful here.) A sprinkle of teriyaki sauce and he's got a dish worthy of the finest restaurant.