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Cod got your tongue? Add to ...

If cod could use their tongues to talk, they might ask you why anyone would want to eat them.

Unlike anything in the seafood world, the tongue of the Atlantic cod (actually a gelatinous bit of flesh from the fish's throat) is an acquired taste.

But here in Newfoundland - where they say the cod were once so thick you could walk across the bay on their backs - it's a local delicacy as iconic as moose nose or seal-flipper pie.

Like the latter, the tongue of the cod was first consumed out of necessity - a tidbit that could be had for nothing by anyone willing to sift through the piles of discarded fish heads on the docks and cut it out.

In fact, almost every Newfoundlander of a certain vintage can remember when heading to the docks to collect cod tongues was a "job" for kids - a way to make some pocket money for the Saturday matinees or simply to feed the family.

"We used to get 15 cents a dozen," remembers Loyola O'Brien, a former cod fisherman turned guide, as we share a plate in his Bay Bulls tour company café.

But with the collapse of the Eastern cod fishery, cod tongues are no longer considered discards.

At St. John's food stores like the historic Belbin's Grocery or the massive Bidgood's, both known for their selection of local ingredients, cod tongues are available fresh or frozen for about $8.50 a pound.

Walk down Water Street in St. John's today, from Velma's, a local café, to what locals simply call "The Hotel" (the fancy Fairmont Newfoundland) and you'll see these coveted little morsels on the menu - lightly battered and fried, topped with everything from the traditional scrunchions (crispy bits of salted side pork) to fruit salsa and aioli in upscale eateries featuring regional cuisine.

At the Fairmont, executive chef Roary MacPherson delivers the mother of all dishes: fat crispy tongues piled high with scrunchions for $13.

"All of a sudden they're like gold," he says.

At his cooking school in a historic house just outside downtown St. John's, chef Bob Arniel provides a quick lesson in cooking the cod's tongue: Just toss the bits of raw fish - each about the size of a sea scallop - in milk and seasoned flour, then sauté them in hot oil until nicely browned on both sides.

He serves the tongues on a pretty plate garnished with a nasturtium blossom from his garden, with a tiny dish of golden nasturtium-infused aioli on the side.

If the cod could only talk.

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