Most New Englanders know that there is no such fish as “scrod”, but then, what the heck is it? Personally, I always assumed scrod referred to the “trash fish” buried beneath the fishermen’s choice catch at the end of an expedition at sea. The fish only fit to be deep fried and slathered in tartar sauce.
In reality, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Scrod tends to be the firm, desirable fish from the top of the ship’s hold – the choice catch. The term traces its origins back to the Boston fish pier where schooners would dock to auction off their catch from the Grand Banks.
Fancier establishments refused to serve the old, soft, flabby fish crushed at the bottom of a ship’s hold. They insisted on choosing from the firm, fresh fish on the top layers.
Since restauranteurs could not predict what the catch might be before the boats arrived in order to pre-print the menus, the maître d’ from the famous Parker House is said to have coined the term “scrod.”
Scrod typically refers to either haddock or cod, but may also include pollack and hake. Haddock and cod are quite difficult to tell apart if skinned and prepared fresh.
With the skin on, it is another story – or maybe “gospel” is a better word. Cod is the fish Christ used to feed the hungry masses. The imprints of his thumbs and forefingers are said to account for the cod’s markings.
This is why many New Englanders refer to the fish as the “sacred cod” – a term that possibly inspired the maître d’ to come up with “scrod” – a contraction of the two words.
Haddock are said to be the result of the devil’s attempt to copy Christ’s fish multiplying stunt. He grabbed a cod, but it wriggled through his red-hot fingers, burning two black stripes down its sides.
Fishermen still use these markings to differentiate between the cod and the haddock today.
NewEngland.com tells of the famous “sacred cod”:
“Today, a large codfish (or is it a haddock?), carved from a single block of white pine, hangs between two central columns in the Massachusetts House of Representatives—a symbol of all the codfish has meant to the New England economy in years past. It faces north when the Democrats hold the majority, south when the Republicans do.
H/T to NewEngland.com
Featured Image via Flickr/Derek Keats