Alaskan Black Cod vs Cod: Know the Differences!

If you’ve ever come across Alaskan black cod, you may be a little surprised at, well … everything. The look, the taste, the sourcing — it’s all different, and for a very good reason. Despite the similar names, the black cod fish isn’t cod at all. It’s an entirely separate fish with an unfortunate and confusing nickname. 

Fresh Alaskan Black Cod (Sablefish)

What is Black Cod? 

Black cod is, in actuality, sablefish. Unfortunately (for both you and the fish), it’s hardly ever called sablefish and is more popularly called black cod. This is no new problem, though. The fish’s name has been a sore subject for fishermen for more than a century. According to a 1916 article in the Pacific Fisherman, “The general feeling [is] that the present name is a misnomer and a decided handicap in its marketing… Consumers who want a cod are always disappointed upon purchasing it, while the many consumers who want a rich fish, such as is the black cod, refuse to take it because of the fear that it would be what its common name implies — a dry-meated fish.”

Still, despite this century-old acknowledgment that calling the sablefish “black cod” is a bit of a misnomer, the name has stuck. 

So, what exactly is black cod? 

A favorite among foodies and chefs, black cod is a higher-end fish that’s particularly popular in Japan (Gindara) and growing in popularity in the United States. Dark in hue and about the same size as a salmon, black cod thrive in the frigid Alaskan waters, where they live in abundance and are harvested sustainably. With high Omega-3 content, and a rich, fatty flavor, there are a multitude of reasons why you’d want to add black cod to your dinner menu. 

Black Cod vs. Cod

When it comes to black cod vs. cod, the differences are night and day. 

  • Anatomy 

Pacific cod can grow to approximately 50 inches long and 50 pounds. Black cod, on the other hand, grow only to about 36 inches, but are a bit heftier, weighing in at up to 55 pounds. The biggest anatomical difference between the two fish is, of course, the color. While your average cod is a pale hue with a dappled design of brownish spots along the top, a black cod is a greenish-black from tip to tail. 

  • Where they live 

Pacific cod live along the Pacific shores, from southern California, all the way up to the Bering Strait. The black cod similarly takes up a large geographic region, found everywhere from northern Mexico to the Bering Sea. 

  • Flavor profile 

As you could likely gather from that excerpt from the Pacific Fisherman, the flavor profiles of the two fish are quite different. Cod is often used in heavily processed fish products, such as fish sticks and patties. Cod is very mild and appeals to a large consumer base because of it. 

Black cod, on the other hand, packs more of a rich, flavorful punch (which is why it’s occasionally also referred to as the butterfish), without being overly “fishy”. Rich and flaky and filled with Omega-3s, the fish is more likely to be used as a culinary centerpiece than its typical cod cousin. 

  • Nutrition 

Cod is high in Omega-3 fatty acids; Vitamins A, D and E; and selenium, an antioxidant. A 3 ounce serving of Alaskan cod includes 70 calories and 15 grams of protein, 0 grams of fat and 40 grams of cholesterol, along with 141 milligrams of Omega-3s. 

Black cod also boasts plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids, but also Vitamin B12, selenium and a range of minerals, from magnesium to iron, calcium to iodine. The added oil in black cod does result in a higher fat and caloric content. A 3 ounce serving includes 210 calories, 15 grams of protein, 17 grams of fat and 54 grams of cholesterol, but a whopping 1,543 milligrams of Omega-3s. 

  • Pricing 

The per-pound price of black cod of course differs according to sourcing, season and other factors, but you can generally expect a per-pound price of around $20 or so. Cod, on the other hand, is a more budget-friendly fish, with per-pound pricing hovering around $10 per pound or less. 

Black Cod Fillet - Rich and fatty sablefish

What’s Unique about Alaskan Black Cod?

Alaskan black cod stand apart from their southernly brethren thanks to the frigid waters of Alaska. The cold temperatures result in a higher fat content, making for a richer flavor and more Omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, Alaskan black cod is sustainably sourced and special provisions are in place to ensure the Alaskan fish populations remain at healthy levels, preventing overfishing. 

Cooking Black Cod at Home

Need some ideas for how to cook black cod? The fish is deceptively easy to cook. The high fat content makes for a fish that retains moisture, seasonings and spices, and marinades well, and that doesn’t dry out quickly. It also pairs well with acidic and salty flavors. 

Baked black cod is especially easy and requires minimal work on your part. Just enclose your one-pound fillet in an aluminum foil packet, with a few pinches of salt, pepper and saffron, and a drizzle of olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. 

Want something a little more extravagant (though still incredibly easy)? Try Nobu’s miso-marinated black cod recipe, for classic Japanese flavors with finesse. 

Black Cod: Not Your Average Cod Dinner 

The next time you’re looking to expand your palate, add a little black cod to your shopping cart. A commendable upgrade from your average cod, black cod is a beautiful addition to any dinner menu — no matter what you call it. 

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