Sablefish is better known as “smoked saber” in New York delicatessen or “smoked black cod” in the Pacific Northwest. In California, it is more often known as “butterfish.” The reason is simple: Few fish are as silky and rich in omega-3 fats as sablefish or black cod.
Don’t judge a fish by its skin color
This deep-dwelling predator is one of only two fish of its kind. The other is the frying pan. The saber fish, or black cod, lives on the ocean floor and has been found at depths of more than a mile below the surface. The skin of a saber fish is charcoal gray, and the fish itself doesn’t look much like it, but this fish is like a diamond ring in a brown envelope.
The saber fish lives only in the North Pacific, and most are caught in the Bering Sea. Fortunately, they are plentiful and because the saber fish’s taste and appearance, if not texture, are similar to Chilean sea bass, the saber is an environmentally superior option to sea bass, which is threatened in some fisheries.
In the kitchen, blackfish or black cod, if you prefer, offers a striking yin-yang look: creamy white meat juxtaposed against black skin.
A very forgiving fish
Sable is versatile, and its high fat content makes it indulgent to the novice cook because the fat acts as a buffer against overcooking. Its fat content also makes it a prime candidate for smoking.
Beware, this fish has large spines, which are small, curved spines that run along the centerline of the fish. They must be removed before continuing with their preparation. Do this with a pair of needle nose pliers.
Sablefish shines in preparations and recipes
Like Sushi or Raw: Do you like fatty tuna or salmon belly in sushi restaurants? Then you will love the raw sablefish. It is also luxuriously dressed on the table with some Meyer lemon and sea salt. However, don’t use sablefish steak for ceviche; that dish goes better with lean fish.
On the grill: Again, fat is a savior here. It allows you to hit a sable steak on a hot grill without worrying too much about it becoming jerky if you look away for too long. But it’s fine texture means you must use a cage or at least have the grill well greased.
Casserole Roasting – Just a simple stir fry lets you savor the depth of saberfish, offering a richer mouthfeel and a longer finish than lean fish.
Candied: poach the sablefish slowly in olive or some other type of oil. Do you think you like slow and poached tuna? Then you will love the same treatment with sablefish.
Pacific black cod over low heat
Have you ever tried Pacific black cod (also known as saber fish)?
It is a delicate and fatty fish, sustainably caught fish, full of good Omega-3s and absolutely delicious.
Whole Foods in my neighborhood has been running it regularly. Here is a beautiful and simple way to prepare it, which was taught to me by my friend and avid fisherman Hank Shaw.
The steaks are simmered in a Japanese-style sake broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, oil, and ginger. While the fillets are cooking, simmer the sauce over the top of the fillets so that the top is also infused with the sauce. The fillets are topped with toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced green onions.
Hank brine his steaks first, to firm up the meat before cooking. It could go either way with this. If you have time, brine the fish (instructions are in the recipe notes), if not, just be more careful when handling cooked fish, as it is quite delicate.