Coley has been much maligned over the years and still has the thoroughly undeserved reputation of being only good enough for the cat! Well, I can tell you, my cat isn't getting any! The truth is that this poor relation of cod and haddock has much to show for itself. It is an under-utilised fish and one that we should take much more notice of. Cod and haddock have lovely sweet white chunky flakes when cooked, while coley looks off white and has a slightly coarser texture. But many think the flavour is superior to cod, and personally I'd agree! This fish is usually sold filleted. The skin is coal black with a silver scaly belly. The most recognisable part is the thick white lateral line that runs down the middle. The flesh is pink-grey, but don't let this put you off!
This is best when very fresh: the fillet will have a translucency and the flakes if the fish will hold tightly together. The skin will look glossy and shiny. Avoid those that look dry with patches of discolouration. This would indicate the fish hasn't been stored well and is past its best.
Coley is best from February until April and then August through to December, so now is a perfect time to take advantage of coley’s availability and quality. It's an excellent staple fish that can be used in so many ways. And at The Seafood School at Billingsgate, we use it a lot. I'd recommend pin-boning and skinning it so you don't get any nasty bony surprises when you eat it!
I add it to a Goan Curry or a Provencal fish soup, but it can be topped with a lemon, parsley and buttery crumb for baking, or flour egg and crumbed as shallow or deep fried Goujon with tartare sauce.
If you are still unconvinced try it against cod or pollock and see how you enjoy the results and taste the difference. I used it in Leek and Coley Fish Pie on Channels 4’s Sunday Brunch recently and it was so admired by the celebrity panel on the day that the pie has become one of the most requested recipes on the programme.
So let's give three cheers for coley and give it a try. You will notice that you have much more change than after buying other members of the family!
CJ Jackson – CEO at The Seafood School at Billingsgate