How to Clean and Cook a Whole Pollack or Pollock

A freshly caught whole pollack
A freshly caught whole pollack

What are Pollack?

Pollack is a species of fish commonly found in the North Atlantic. Confusion often arises as it is generally lumped together with its cousin the coley (coalfish) - or saithe - in North America, where the two different sub-species are collectively known as pollock. This means that while a pollack is indeed a pollock, a pollock is not necessarily a pollack! The pollack is distinguishable by the golden/green colouring above its lateral line.

Pollack are very often discounted by fishermen and cooks/chefs alike as a desirable eating fish. This is a great shame, as where pollack are prepared properly, they are a delicious eating fish. Pollack are commonly used in fish pies with other types of fish such as salmon or cod but can very easily be prepared and enjoyed in their own right. A common criticism of pollack is that they are bland in terms of flavour. In reality, they are not bland - they simply require a little bit more seasoning than many other types of fish...

The pollack featured on this page was caught from a charter boat out of Oban, Argyll, in the West of Scotland, approximately eight to ten hours prior to it being placed in the oven. Pollack in excess of twenty pounds are common in the area and the short video below shows a slightly larger pollack than this two and a half pound specimen being caught in the Argyll area.

Top Tip for Scaling Fish

Scaling most types of fish is neither difficult nor time consuming. There is, however, one major drawback of scaling fish yourself at home and that is quite simply the mess that can be caused in a domestic kitchen. Particularly with fish like pollack, where the scales are so fine and lightweight, they can get everywhere and you can still be finding them in the unlikeliest of places a day or two later, regardless of how careful you may be in your task.

The answer? Simply scale your fish outdoors when you catch it or ask your fishmonger to take care of it on your behalf at the point of purchase.

Scaling a Pollack

When you are scaling a pollack or any other fish with a knife, there are two points which you must always remember. For safety reasons, the knife should always be moving away from you and in order to avoid damage to the flesh of the fish, it is the blunt edge of the knife which should be used.

Place the fish on a hard, fixed surface and hold it securely by the tail. Starting just forward of the tail, scrape the blunt edge of the knife along the fish towards the head, removing the fine scales as you go. Take your time and a number of strokes on each side are likely to be necessary. As the scales of the pollack are removed, you will see the much lighter coloured skin underneath being revealed.

You may wish to consider making a small investment in a dedicated fish scaler, such as the one featured to the right, where this is a procedure you are likely to be carrying out regularly, or you have any safety concerns.

Thumb discreetly shows the point from which the forward cut will be made in order to remove the guts of the pollack
Thumb discreetly shows the point from which the forward cut will be made in order to remove the guts of the pollack

How to Gut a Pollack

Every effort has been made on this page not to include photographs of a particularly graphic nature. The photograph to the right therefore shows only the point from which we will start eviscerating (gutting) the pollack. A very sharp knife is inserted immediately forward of the anal fin and a clean cut made (cutting away from your body) all the way up to between the gills. Use your fingers to remove and discard the innards from the belly cavity. The fish should then be washed very thoroughly under running cold water.

Care should be exercised when removing the innards as there may be small bones protruding in to the belly cavity which can stick in to your fingers.

Top Tip for Removing the Fins from Fish

When you are removing the fins from most types of fish, you will find it much easier to do so with a pair of scissors, rather than any type of knife. Be sure, however, to use a sturdy pair of kitchen scissors or shears, rather than a small pair of nail scissors! This is also the safest method of removing the fins, as even the sharpest of knives can slip during what can by this method be an extremely awkward task.

Removing the Fins from a Pollack

It is not absolutely essential to remove the fins from the pollack at this stage but it is more practical to do so before cooking than after. Especially when baking a pollack in foil, you will find that the fins - where they have not been removed - will stick to the foil, causing unnecessary serving difficulties. The pectoral fins from either side near the head, the dorsal fins (top of the fish) and the anal fins (underbelly) should all be removed. The tail fins can be removed or left in place, as desired.

Gutted, scaled and with its fins removed, the pollack is now ready to be prepped for the oven (note particularly the change in colour with the scales removed)
Gutted, scaled and with its fins removed, the pollack is now ready to be prepped for the oven (note particularly the change in colour with the scales removed)
The pollack is laid on the foil before being seasoned and the final oven preparations are made
The pollack is laid on the foil before being seasoned and the final oven preparations are made
The pollack is wrapped in a sealed but loose foil tent
The pollack is wrapped in a sealed but loose foil tent
Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood
Fish Forever: The Definitive Guide to Understanding, Selecting, and Preparing Healthy, Delicious, and Environmentally Sustainable Seafood

Pollack/pollock is - at least for the present time - classed as being a sustainable species of fish. Please try therefore to select a fish such as pollock/pollack for your table, in preference to in particular the desperately endangered Atlantic cod or haddock. This fabulous book will help you to select only sustainable fish for your family meals and provide truly delicious ideas for cooking it. This means you get all the taste, all the pleasure and all the goodness from fish, without damaging further either fish stocks or the environment.

 

Cooking a Whole Pollack in the Oven

Put your oven on to preheat to 375F/190C/Gas Mark 5.

Lay a large sheet of foil on a baking or roasting tray. You may wish to use two sheets, overlapping at right angles. Sit the pollock on its side on the foil. If this were a larger fish, scores would be made in either flank to receive seasoning but it is not really necessary with a fish this size and could actually lead to the fish breaking up during cooking.

To give the pollack a little extra kick in the taste department, dried herbs are used for their intensity in the seasoning rather than fresh.

Season the inside of the belly cavity with salt, white pepper and half a teaspoon of dried basil. Add around a half ounce of butter, broken in to small pieces, and two lemon wedges. Season the top of the fish with more salt, white pepper and dried basil, before laying a further half ounce of butter on top as shown in the image to the above right.

Wrap the pollack carefully in the foil. Ensure that the foil package is sealed but keep it as loose as possible to allow the hot air and steam to circulate around the fish during cooking.

Cook the fish for fifteen minutes per pound. Remove from the oven and unwrap very carefully - continuing to use oven protecting gloves - as hot steam will immediately begin to escape. Stick a metal skewer through the thickest part of the fish and where only minimal resistance is met, the fish is cooked.

To serve the pollack, you can very easily slide the flesh off the bone with a fish slice and plate with some salad and buttered new potatoes. A fish this size should provide two generous portions served in this way.

Alternatively, as - it has to be admitted - was the case in this instance, you can leave it to cool slightly and eat it from the foil with your fingers, accompanied by some fresh crusty bread and butter, as you may well have done had you cooked it on an open beach fire...

The pollack is removed from the oven and the foil is very carefully unwrapped
The pollack is removed from the oven and the foil is very carefully unwrapped
2.7 stars from 15 ratings of this pollack recipe!

Have You ever Eaten Pollack?

This is of course but one of the many ways in which it is possible to cook pollack, or indeed pollock. The next time therefore you either catch a pollack or have the opportunity to buy or obtain one, do try cooking and eating it, rather than throwing it back or declining the offer. You will hopefully be very pleasantly surprised by just how tasty this sustainable type of fish can be.

Thank you for taking the time to browse this page. Any comments or feedback which you may have can be left in the space below.

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