What Is Cod Fish?

A Guide to Buying, Cooking, and Storing Cod Fish

Cod fillet

The Spruce Eats / Abby Mercer

Cod is a popular fish known for its mild flavor and dense, flaky flesh. It's one of the most common fish used for making fish and chips. 

What Is Cod?

Cod is a firm, white fish that's commonly prepared by frying, grilling, steaming, baking and broiling, and is popular in cuisines around the world. There are two main varieties of cod, Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), which is found throughout the cold waters of the North Atlantic ocean, and the smaller Pacific Cod (Gadus macrocephalus), which is prevalent along the Pacific Ocean coasts of North America, Asia and Russia. Cod is from the same family, Gadidae, as haddock, whiting and pollock. 

Salt cod, a preserved cod preparation made by salting and drying cod, has been eaten for centuries from the Atlantic coast of North America, to the Caribbean, Europe and South America, and is regarded as the prosciutto of the sea.

How to Cook Cod

Cod is usually sold in fillets, which means there is little to no prep to be done (such as removing skin, bones or excess fat) before cooking it. If you're grilling, baking or broiling it, you'll most likely leave the fillet whole, whereas if you're frying it or cooking it in a soup or stew, you may want to cut it up into smaller pieces. 

Frying is one of the most common ways to prepare cod. A traditional fish and chips recipe calls for preparing a batter of flour, cornstarch, sparkling water and/or beer, plus baking powder and seasonings. After dredging the fish in flour, dip it in the batter and then transfer it to a pan of hot oil, where it will fry until golden brown and crispy.

Fish and chips

Tracey Kusiewicz / Getty Images

Cod stewed with tomatoes and olives

Carlo A / Getty Images

Cod on a fork

Westend61 / Getty Images

Baked cod

Natalia Gdovskaia / Getty Images

What Does Cod Taste Like?

Cod is known for its mild, almost milky flavor, and firm, flaky texture. It is very much unfishy. Some aficionados claim that Atlantic cod is sweeter and more tender, as compared with Pacific cod which is firmer and more savory. In general, it's the most oily or fatty fish that have the strongest flavor, which can sometimes be considered "fishy," but cod is quite lean, so you won't experience any of that. 

Cod Vs. Salmon Vs. Haddock Vs. Tilapia

Because they are all among the most popular fish, cod, salmon, haddock and tilapia are often compared with each other. Haddock and tilapia both resemble cod the most in terms of their flavor and texture, as they are all firm, white fish with mild flavor, and they all hold up well to various cooking methods. Salmon, on the other hand, is more of a fatty fish with a stronger flavor.

Cod Recipes

Cod can be cooked in a variety of ways and is a versatile palette upon which to build flavors. In addition to recipes such as the ones below that specifically call for cod, you can generally substitute cod for any recipe that specifies a firm, white fish, such as haddock, tilapia, snapper, or catfish. It's often used in fish tacos.

Is Cod Good for Me?

Many fish are known to contain dangerous levels of mercury, especially larger fish such as tuna, swordfish, shark and marlin. Cod, however, is a smaller fish, and is considered one of the best choices to eat in terms of levels of mercury.

Where to Buy Cod

Cod is one of the most widely available fish, and can easily be found in supermarkets, both at the seafood counter and the frozen section. It's usually sold in fillets. Like most fish and seafood, the frozen version is usually the best quality, since it is typically processed and flash frozen on the fishing boat to capture its peak freshness. Frozen cod can also be purchased from online retailers. 

Storing Cod

If you purchase frozen cod in a vacuum-sealed package, you can go ahead and store it in your freezer until you're ready to use it. The best way to defrost it is to transfer it to the refrigerator the night before you plan to use it. Cod that wasn't frozen when you purchased shouldn't be stored, but cooked the day you bring it home. If that's not possible, you should absolutely use it within a day or two at the most. Freezing it isn't the best idea either, since in most cases it was already frozen and then thawed, and refreezing thawed items is one of the most basic food-safety no-nos.


The main varieties of cod are Pacific and Atlantic. Both are firm, mild and flaky. Pacific cod from Russia and Japan are overfished. Pacific cod from Alaska is a better choice. Atlantic cod usually weigh from 10 to 25 pounds, but they're known to be even larger. Pacific cod, on the other hand, usually weigh 5 to 10 pounds. The word "scrod" simply refers to younger cod that weigh less than 2 1/2 pounds.

A number of fish that aren't actually cod have the word cod in their name, because they either look or taste like cod, such as lingcod, black cod and rock cod. 

Article Sources
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  1. Advice About Eating Fish. FDA.gov