How to Cook New England-Style Cornmeal-Crusted Cod Cheeks

Cornmeal fried cod cheeks
Cornmeal fried cod cheeks. Hank Shaw
  • 35 mins
  • Prep: 20 mins,
  • Cook: 15 mins
  • Yield: 4 main dish servings
Ratings (7)

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; traditionally fishermen would eat the cheeks and sell the rest of the fish, thinking they would not be appealing to buyers. These tiny pieces of cod or halibut are easy to cook and fun to eat as a sandwich on a crusty bun with greens and sauce of choice or solo, with just a dipping sauce, as an appetizer. Simply breaded or battered, cod cheeks are a must-have when in New England. This recipe jazzes up a classic with a garlic-basil dipping sauce. Figure on three to five cheeks per person for a starter; double that for a main course serving.

What You'll Need

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

How to Make It

The Sauce

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

The Fish

Mix the cornmeal with the cayenne and black pepper.

Place a heavy skillet over medium-high with enough oil -- I like canola oil for frying -- to come up the sides of the pan about a quarter-inch.

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 should cook the cheeks about 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until they are 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.