Nigel Spence: How to Make Salted Codfish Cookup From Jamaica

jamaica codfish cookup

Salted Codfish is ubiquitous in the Caribbean kitchen, but we rarely find it being consumed fresh. Fresh codfish is  worlds away from salted cod in texture and taste having a very flaky, tender meat and mild flavor. It is the fish of choice for the famed pub dish “fish and chips” for that very reason. A perfectly executed version has a very thin flavorful batter covering a tender mildly seasoned white fillet inside.

In Jamaica it plays an important role in our national dish, Ackee and saltfish, although these days many other types of salted fish are substituted primarily due to the increasing price and availability of codfish. When ackee is out of season, we still go ahead and make the dish sans the ackee, and simply call it a “cook up saltfish”.

Whenever I am lucky enough to score a super fresh fillet of cod from my fish guys, I usually serve a deconstructed version of that dish, highlighting the freshness of the cod by serving it as a whole fillet. It’s a playful spin on an informal dish, dressing it up for proper dinner service. Topping it off with a scotch bonnet compound butter sauce on the way to the dining room just takes the flavors over the moon. Enjoy!

Cook-up Codfish 

2 eight-ounce Cod fillets, fresh

½ cup yellow Onions, thinly sliced

½ cup Tomatoes, medium diced

¼ cup Bell peppers, small diced

¼ cup Scallions, rough chopped

1 tablespoon Thyme leaves, freshly picked from stalks

1 teaspoon Garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon Smoked Salt (can substitute sea salt)

2 teaspoons Sea Salt 

1 tablespoon Compound Butter (recipe follows)

2 tablespoons Coconut oil + 4 tablespoons


Season fish fillets with 1 tablespoon smoked salt and let fish marinate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Add 2 tablespoons of coconut oil to sauté pan over medium heat and add onions. Sweat onions for about 3 minutes then add garlic, tomatoes, bell pepper, scallions thyme and salt. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for approximately 5 to 7 minutes more, stirring or flipping the pan to incorporate all ingredients together, then remove from heat and keep warm.

In an oven proof sauté pan over medium-low heat, add 4 tablespoons coconut oil.

When oil is hot, add both fillets to pan and allow to slow roast for about 6 minutes. Do not move the fish around. Using a spoon and tilting the pan, baste the top of the fish with the oil and pan juices every few minutes while it cooks.

Flip the fish over and continue to cook for about 3 minutes more. 

Transfer pan to pre-heated oven and finish in the oven for about 5 minutes more.

Remove from heat and hold for service.

The cooking times may vary depending on the thickness of the fillet, but a fresh fillet of cod will tell you when it is ready as it begins to separate into scallop like pieces.

Take your sauteed vegetables and divide into two white plates or shallow bowls.

Place the fillets on top of the sauteed vegetables and top with compound butter. Serve immediately!

Scotch Bonnet Compound Butter

1 eight-ounce stick of Butter

½ teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper

1 teaspoon Salt

1 teaspoon Thyme, freshly picked from stalks

1 tablespoon Lemon juice, fresh squeezed

½ teaspoon Old Bay seasoning


Leave butter to come to room temperature, then add all ingredients and mix in to butter with a whisk or fork until well incorporated. 

Put mixture in plastic film and roll into a log shape and place in freezer to harden. 

Remove from freezer and cut into wheels and place on top of your favorite hot from the oven dish to melt. ENJOY!

Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show, Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavor.


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